36 pages 1 hour read

Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress

Fiction | Short Story Collection | Adult | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales is a 2014 collection of nine short stories from Canadian author Margaret Atwood. While Atwood has published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, she is probably best known for her dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood often tackles the power of the written word in her work. Many of the characters in Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales are writers. Atwood revisits other of her familiar themes in these stories, including gender, aging, revenge, and identity.

Plot Summary

The first three stories in Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales are linked together by Constance Starr and Alphinland, the best-selling fantasy series that Constance authored. “Alphinland,” the first story in the collection, introduces Constance as a widow looking back to when she first created Alphinland as a means to make money and to create a fantasy world where Constance could escape from Gavin, her boyfriend at the time. In “Revenant,” Gavin dies after being forced to acknowledge Constance’s literary success, though he had not contacted Constance in years. The third story “Dark Lady,” taking its name from Gavin’s most celebrated poem, takes place at Gavin’s funeral, where Constance finds herself face to face with the other women in Gavin’s life.

In the fourth story “Lusus Naturae,” readers meet an outsider who is hidden from the world due to physical and mental deformities. She is later shunned and abandoned by her own family.

The collection’s remaining five stories address old age, revenge, and the past. In “The Freeze-Dried Groom,” Sam’s wife kicks him out of the house and later finds him as the owner of an abandoned storage. The unit holds the remains of a wedding: a bride’s dress; an uneaten, stale cake; champagne flutes; flowers; and a dead groom.

“I Dream of Zenia with the Big Red Teeth,” is a writing exercise in which Atwood revisits characters from her novel, The Robber Bride.

In “The Dead Hand Loves You,” Jack Dace writes a bestselling novel despite the doubts of his roommates and himself. Years later, he still splits the profits of his success four ways due to a contract he signed as a young, hungover college student who couldn’t afford to pay his rent.

In the titular story, “Stone Mattress”, Vera says she doesn’t want to kill anyone but nevertheless takes revenge on a man from her past. It is clear this is not her first murder.

Atwood’s collection ends with “Torching the Dusties.” A movement to exterminate the elderly results in a fire set to Ambrosia Manor, Wilma’s nursing home. Wilma, who is losing her sight and finds solace in hallucinations, watches the flames dance, not knowing if they are made up in her mind or if she will soon become a casualty of a younger generation.