For some reason I think that I don’t like reading short stories. Perhaps it’s the curse of being a fast reader, but I need to remind myself that I DO like short stories. There’s no better book to remind me of this than Margaret Atwood’s recent collection, Stone Mattress: Nine Stories, out last month.
Atwood, much like Alice Munro, packs a great deal, sometimes whole lifetimes, into 20-25 pages. I particularly liked that several of the stories feature overlapping characters. In “Alphinland,” a recently widowed author of a bestselling fantasy series battles an ice storm with the help of her dead husband’s voice. The following story, “Revenant”, features an early ex-lover of the widowed author, a man who went on to become a well-known literary type. Featured in his dottering years, there’s not much left to respect as he reminisces on his early years.
Overall I enjoyed each and every story. Atwood’s inventiveness and keen eye for nuances of human behavior have shown how hollow my idea that short stories are somehow less enjoyable than a longer novel. Atwood’s stories show me over and over to never underestimate what can happen in such a short amount of pages. Perhaps it’s time to give flash fiction a try.