Stone Mattress (Nan A. Talese, $25.95) began as a kind of game: while on a cruise, Margaret Atwood and her fellow passengers speculated about whether someone could commit a murder on board such a ship and get away with it. Atwood’s character, Verna, in a belated act of revenge, took up the challenge. But to answer the initial question, readers need to look back to Bluebeard. With the buried treasure of a rewritten literary classic in each one, these nine tales, the natural habitat of the wonderful and the strange, are serious fun. A woman who writes a popular science-fiction series turns literature into witchcraft, keeping some men out of her invented world while imprisoning others within it; her late husband doesn’t stop haunting her until she calls him “dead.” Words matter; storytelling has high stakes. A con artist who poses as an antiques dealer meets a woman storing her dead fiancé in a storage unit; when he hears her explanation, he recognizes a liar after his own heart. While Atwood’s characters are mostly past middle-age, little about these characters marks them as retirees, and from a muse finagling royalties on the novel she inspired to an academic researching her subject’s work at his funeral, these lively figures are right at home in Atwood’s delightfully wicked plots and zesty prose.
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