“Stone Mattress,” by Margaret Atwood
Appeared in the New Yorker, December 19th, 2011, online here; collected in Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales (Nan A. Talese, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday, 2014); read by A. M. Homes for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, June 1st, 2018, online here
7,156 words, though it feels much shorter
(Spoilers.) Verna is charmingly believable. It seems like such a leap from her quiet, almost passive-aggressive husband murders (and not all of them even qualify as murders, I feel like) to the swift brutal one she enacts on Bob—I wasn’t sure if she could go through with it. But then she did. And I liked it.
What to make of the ending? I think she’s going to get away with it, but it’s striking how apathetic she is about the whole plan, how distractable. “She ought to care more about that—she ought to find it an exciting challenge—but right now she just feels tired and somewhat empty.
“Though at peace, though safe.” Is she lying to herself about feeling at peace? Surely she is. Surely her revenge hasn’t solved the problem of her life, her bitterness about the long-lasting effects of her trauma.
Edited to add: “kind, soft, insulating money” is so great. Listening to the podcast, I was waiting for the noun (“love,” perhaps?) and “money” came as a delightful surprise.