Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Stone Mattress" by Margaret Atwood

It's interesting that, on Amazon, the book's subtitle is listed as "Nine Wicked Tales," though my library copy is just titled "Nine Tales." My copy's subtitle is probably more accurate because "wicked" connotes some kind of horror or perversity that really isn't present in these fairly straightforward stories. Sure, the characters aren't kind and gentle souls, but they didn't seem especially wicked either (okay, there are murders and blackmailing, etc., so maybe I just have pessimistic view of society). Nevertheless, as someone who's a fan of Atwood and her speculative fiction (Handmaid's Tale, the Oryx and Crake series), Nine Tale's primary focus on aging adults and their regrets just didn't live up.

I wondered throughout if my apathy towards the stories is a result of age-ism, as all the stories are narrated by elderly (is that the right term? I'm feeling ageist already...) adults reminiscing about their younger lives. Maybe, as a "young" person (I mean, I'm 33, so I'm not exactly young) I just can't appreciate a book that doesn't focus on my generation(ish), a prejudice developed because so many books do. On the other hand, I enjoyed Atwood's other recent entry, Hag-Seed, the re-telling of The Tempest that's also about an elderly man reminiscing, so perhaps I'm off the hook?

In addition to the similar narrators and the singular focus of the stories' topics, the stories are also so ordinary. At best, they might vaguely tickle the edges of magical realism, but that's about it. Again, I realize my disappointment is partially a result of my expectations that the stories would enter the sci-fi/fantasy genre when they didn't.

The first three stories have interconnected characters, exploring the narrators' earlier relationships from the point of view of the end of their lives. I liked the differing perspectives on similar events, and thought the references to Aphinland, a popular fantasy series written by one of the narrators, showed promise, even though it didn't really go anywhere. Nevertheless, these first three stories were my favorite since they explored the ways we see ourselves and the ways we see others.

Other stories just fell flat for me. The title story, "Stone Mattress," is a traditional revenge fantasy and "Lusus Naturae" is an I'm-becoming-a-vampire-and-am-confused tale.

The final story, "Torching the Dusties," again shows potential, about a sort-of dystopia where the young people have decided to kill off the aged. Told through the point of view of two people in an assisted living facility, it's an interesting idea, but ends suddenly. But the message (of this story and the others) is clear: our society disregards the contributions, wisdom, and even personhood of the elderly. And, perhaps too, the stories suggest that the elderly aren't so "innocent" and "dithering" as we might think. Maybe that's Atwood's primary goal, given that she's 77 and still churning our successful books, whatever my opinion may be.

No comments:

Post a Comment