This week’s book review comes from Sarah Rito, who teaches ninth grade English and journalism at State College Area High School.
Margaret Atwood is scheduled to speak in my town in November, an event I’m hoping I can escape from everyday busy to attend. I dove into Atwood’s books with Cat’s Eye in my early twenties, and have loved each thing I’ve picked up since then. Her gift for creating compelling characters and situations within the realm of real everyday life makes her stories accessible, but her thoughtful prose and eloquent turn of phrase leave my English-teacher-self feeling fulfilled.
So when I happened upon a copy of Stone Mattress, Atwood’s new book of short fiction, on display at the library, I had to pick it up. And it didn’t disappoint.
The stories in Stone Mattress follow a collection of eccentric characters as they navigate their later lives, reflecting on who they were and how they got to be where they are. Their reminiscences are at once funny, poignant and sorrowful, and serve as a reminder that whatever we are doing today, it will stay with us later in ways we probably won’t expect. With grace and care, Atwood explores the human dichotomies of connection and loneliness, youth and age and work and art through stories about writers, husbands, wives and, of course, jilted lovers.
Though each story stands alone, some center on a common cast of characters that make you feel like you’re dipping into different perspectives on the same slices of life. And fans of Atwood will recognize some voices from other novels echoed in later stories—a rare gift from a writer to see her imagination’s “where are they now” snapshots on characters whose books have long since been over.
Stone Mattress is worth the read even if Atwood won’t be speaking in your neck of the woods any time soon. It’s a meditation on lives passed and lives still in the living that leaves the reader with a sense of excitement for being in the now.