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September 10, 2015
Please welcome back our 2015 Toronto Book Awards blogger, Kim MacMullen! Kim will be reading and reviewing the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards, which will be awarded on October 15, 2015.
Today’s featured review is Stone Mattress, the new short story collection by Margaret Atwood. Atwood will not be in attendance at this year’s festival, and instead, will have Lynn Crosbie reading on her behalf. Crosbie will be reading from Atwood’s Stone Mattress at The Word On The Street at the Harbourfront Centre on Sunday, September 27, from 12:00 to 12:30pm at the Toronto Books Awards Tent.
Largely dealing with legacy, aging, identity, and revenge, the nine tales (not stories, as is noted in the acknowledgments) in Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress are pointed, reflective, and filled with signature Atwood wit and vision. The first three tales interconnect, telling the story of a group of friends, artists, and lovers in 1960s Toronto. Constance is a genre writer before genre writing was legitimized by cable television programs, Gavin is a self-centred poet, and Jorrie is Gavin’s Dark Lady. Or so she believes. These stories, told from the perspective of each player some forty years after the events that brought them together and drove them apart, show how one event or series of events can alter the course of one’s life and even the core of one’s personality. This theme is repeated several times throughout the collection, and a fair few of the tales centre on women who have been changed or shaped by wrongs perpetrated against them in their younger years, with their adult selves exacting revenge on their abusers in various ways, decades after the original offense. Others are about taking charge of how the world sees you after a lifetime of being told who and what you are. These themes intersect and interact in many of the stories, amid questions of legacy and personal dignity, along with commentary on an aging body’s betrayals (and other bodily betrayals, as in Lusus Naturae).
The same words can be attached to Stone Mattress that we’ve collectively been using to describe Atwood’s work for decades—it’s wry, wicked, sharp, poignant, and smart—but despite her reputation and stature and ubiquity in our collective Canadian literary consciousness, these tales stand on their own. The characters’ unique voices can be heard loud and clear above her own (distinct and familiar as it is), and the tales themselves feel fresh and surprising. And while the topics may be heavy (murder, betrayal, abandonment, more murder), there is humour or levity or at least some humanity to be found in each one, not to mention a lesson or two about not underestimating or counting out our elders. Especially on Alaskan cruises.
Kim MacMullen is a copywriter from Barrie, ON. She has a degree in English Literature from Laurentian University, and, after spending two years in Toronto, she now lives in Barrie with her husband and their substantial collections of books, sports memorabilia, and video games.
On October 15, where will the 2015 Toronto Book Awards be presented? Check out the Toronto Book Awards website for more information, and send the answer to firstname.lastname@example.org to be entered in a draw to win a prize pack of all the shortlisted Toronto Book Awards books, signed by the authors!
Keep an eye out for the rest of the Toronto Book Awards reviews, and more chances to enter!
Contest closes September 23, 2015.