All life is death. You don't fool yourself about this anymore. You slash at the perfect canvas with strokes of paint and replace the perfect picture of your imagination with the reality of what you are capable of. From death, and sorrow, and compromise, you create. This is what it means, you finally realize, to be alive.
This quote, taken from near the end of "The Chambered Fruit," the last story in this wonderful debut collection by World Fantasy Award-nominated short story writer M. Rickert, serves as a recapitulation of sorts some of the themes that run through its 313 pages. Fantasy does not have to be about re-creating down to the tiniest detail facets of our shared life on this planet. It can, and does here in Map of Dreams, illustrates just what imaginative wonders and horrors that we can conjure up from the depths of our hurt, anguish, frustration as well as from our joys and hopes. The stories contained within Map of Dreams are not always cheerful ones. Some very bad things are happening to the characters, but yet even through this we come to see allegories to our own worries and troubles in our own lives and in the lives of those near and dear to us. The word "fantasy" originally had a meaning of "revelation" or of the unveiling of mysteries that bedeviled people. Rickert has written these stories collected in Map of Dreams.
The collection begins with the eponymous story, which is really a 100 page short novel dealing with a woman witnessing her daughter's murder and her real (and imagined) flight across the globe trying to relive the event and to prevent it. From Australian Aborigine dreamscapes to the familiar world of family and friends deserted in her quest, the story becomes haunting, with literal and figurative illusions marking Annie Merchant's Quixotic quest. By the time the powerful ending is revealed, the tone has been set for the other stories in this collection.
For the most part, these stories live up to the promise of the first (or rather, since the first tale was published last, it lives up to the promise of the other stories). There are scenes of obsession and terror, but also tender and moving moments. In his Afterword, editor Gordon Van Gelder compares Rickert's stories to those of the great magic realists, such as Gabriel García Márquez, especially for how the events in "The Chambered Fruit" unfold and conclude. There is something to this, I agree, but I ought to note that Rickert is not slavish in holding to this form, as each of her stories shows a willingness to experiment. The results may not always be pretty, but I found them to be enjoyable, provocative stories that have stuck in my head perhaps a bit more than the others. Definitely worth consideration for the WFA this year, maybe as a top 3 selection.
Publication Date: October 1, 2006 (US), Hardcover
Publisher: Golden Gryphon Press