On one hand, you have novels. On the other, you have short stories. But is the split that clear-cut? If the world of books has taught us anything lately, it’s that widely held boundaries—between self-publishing and the establishment, cliché and rejuvenation, even one genre and the next—have become blurred.
Granted, most of those things have overlapped to some degree in the past. Case in point: novels and short-story collections. In September, Margaret Atwood—celebrated author of The Handmaid’s Tale and the MaddAddamn Trilogy (the latter of which is being adapted by director Darren Aronofsky for HBO)—saw the release of her latest short-story collection, Stone Mattress. It comprises nine stories that embody the quirky yet profound tone Atwood has been mastering for decades, full of fantastic situations grounded in poignancy, humor, and the entanglements of desire.
What’s especially interesting about Stone Mattress, though, is the book’s first three stories: “Alphinland,” “Revenant,” and “Dark Lady.” While listed on the table of contents as individual tales, the trio connects to form a single, if short, novel of roughly 100 pages. In those pages, a group of friends try to navigate the transgressions and regrets of their collective past. The linked tales also spotlight fictional works of literature that exist within the universe Atwood has created. Alphinland is the name of a spectacularly popular fantasy novel series written by one of the characters, C. W. Starr (a cheeky spoof of J. K. Rowling); the Dark Lady suite is a series of romantic poems written by Starr’s late husband, Gavin Putnam. The device is playfully meta, but it also underscores how storytelling often can’t—and often shouldn’t—be neatly tied up in discreet little parcels. READ FULL STORY