I think that, like me, when asked to name stories by Margaret Atwood, most readers would name some of the impressive body of novels she’s written. This is strange because her short stories are well represented on my bookshelves where Wilderness Tips sit alongside Bluebeard’s Egg and Dancing Girls, and I’ve fleetingly enjoyed the view of the world, recognisable but slantwise, that Atwood presents in these collections as much as any of her novels.
Her recent collection Stone Mattress (the title taken from a short story she originally published in The New Yorker) is no exception to this, and if anything, I enjoyed the stories more for having experienced the timeframe in which they are set because the immediacy of the real world events contrasted with the inherent otherness of Atwood’s writing really amplifies the sense that you often get from her short stories that there’s something else lurking in the shade of the text; another six stories waiting to be told or another perspective which dances behind the wry humour and remains just beyond your reach.
There’s something for fans old and new here, and I especially enjoyed the hints that Margaret Atwood is making merry of her literary reputation contrasting the reception of an unsympathetic literati with that of a pulp fiction writing student desperately trying to make rent and a distracted granny whose coping mechanisms have achieved cult status. Anti-feminists who claim that Atwood is a man-hating bitch will probably be outraged to see that she’s given them something to get their teeth into using a cast of well-loved characters from The Robber Bride, but I imagine she had a twinkle in her eye writing that story.