I drew the two of hearts for week 26 – the midway point! – of Deal Me In 2015. Deuces are wild, and hearts is my suit “for women authors only” so, having recently started Margaret Atwood’s newly minted collection, Stone Mattress, I thought reading the second tale in that book an appropriate choice. For a brief summary of how Deal Me In challenge works, see the 2015 sign up post. If you want to see what my 52 stories for 2015 are, check out my roster.
After reading and doing some minimal research, I learned that the first three stories in the book (“Alphinland,” “Revenant,” and “Dark Lady”) actually, when read together, make up a tidy little novella. In “Alphinland” I met the author character, “Constance” who made a killing writing a wildly popular fantasy series which lent its name to the story title. In “Revenant” I met Gavin, who was married to Constance, but now is in the twilight of his life, in ill health (he’s become “an atrophied bundle of sticks and twine”) and – as a “literary” author himself – somewhat embittered by the enduring fame of his former wife’s work.
In “Revenant” Gavin is now “under the care” of the latest woman in his life. Her name is Reynolds, and her “babying” of him got on not only Gavin’s nerves, but this reader’s nerves as well. Gavin’s recalling his somewhat lecherous past fuels the first part of this story, but the main “action” takes place when a pretty young female graduate student visits Gavin and Reynolds in their home. Apparently she has based her thesis on some of the great writer’s work (as Gavin reacts: “Thesis on my fucking work,” he says. “Christ defend us!”). Or that’s what he thinks at first.
The story – and the others in this collection from what I’ve heard – deal with the issue of aging and not always in a happy way, it seems. Atwood also takes some time out in this story to comment on an aspect of the current state of high education: “’Every halfwit has an M.A. They’re like popcorn…’ ‘Tiny little kernels,’ he says. ’Superheated in the academic cooker. The hot air expands. Poof! An M.A.” Not bad, he thinks. Also true. The universities want the cash, so they lure these kids in. Then they turn them into puffballs of inflated starch, with no jobs to match. Better to have a certificate in plumbing.'” Pretty damning, huh? I guess we should also remember that these are the grumblings a of a bitter old man, though.
I’m not so “in tune” with the publishing world that I often await an author’s new book with great anticipation. I guess it’s happened a couple of times with series, but those are rare cases. When I learned last year that Atwood had this short story collection “coming out in 2015,” however, I began counting down the days. I have been so impressed by everything I’ve read by her so far, particularly The Handmaid’s Tale and The Robber Bride. Since all these stories have to do with aging, and its effect on us humans, I’m sure I’ll find them fascinating. Though she’s got more than a couple decades on me, at seventy-five Atwood speaks from authority on this subject and has gotten me thinking a little more about the subject of aging than maybe I’d like to. 🙂 Nonetheless, I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in this collection.
What is your favorite Margaret Atwood work?
Playing card image from http://playingcardcollector.net/2013/07/18/kashmir-playing-cards-by-printissa/