I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
In these nine dazzlingly inventive and rewarding stories, Margaret Atwood's signature dark humour, playfulness, and deadly seriousness are in abundance. In "Freeze-Dried Bridegroom," a man who bids on a storage locker has a surprise. In "Lusus Naturae," a woman with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In "I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth," we remeet Tony, Charis, and Roz from The Robber Bride, but, years later, as their nemesis is seen in an unexpected form. In "Torching the Dusties," an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet's syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. In "Stone Mattress," a long-ago crime is revenged in the Arctic. This is classic Margaret Atwood, and she is at the very top of her form.
I hesitate to think about how many decades it has been since I read anything by Margaret Atwood—perhaps since the early 1990s? Reading this book of short stories reminded me of how much I appreciate her outlook on the world (and this from someone who isn’t really a big fan of short stories).
I particularly enjoyed the first three stories, which were inter-related and which provided a look into the poetry scene of the 1960s, something that Atwood knew from the inside. There seemed to be a lot of looking back at the past in all of the stories in the volume—not exactly in a nostalgic way, but in a clear-eyed sort of way.
I was particularly fond of the story which provided the title to the volume, having a bit of a soft spot for stromatolites. One summer I volunteered as an educator at a local paleontology museum. The paid staff, of course, grabbed the positions with the sexier dinosaur fossils, leaving the volunteers such treasures as a stuffed Gar fish, a petrified ray of some kind, and the trusty stromatolite. I researched all three and made them as interesting as I could (partially, I must admit, to avoid the puzzles & games that were also on offer and which bored me to death). I felt I had done my job when my supervisor would stop by to pick up educational tips on my subjects.
I have also been on educational cruises like the one Atwood describes in this story (and which she was on when she began to spin this tale) and have thoroughly enjoyed myself—although I never plotted murder. She also seems to enjoy the murder mystery narrative that entertains me.
I must remedy my lack of Atwood in my reading life—how talented she is to be able to write novels, short stories and poetry and do it all well.