Locus Magazine Review

Map of Dreams, M. Rickert (Golden Gryphon 1-930846-44-4, $24.95, 308pp, hc) October 2006. Cover by Thomas Canty.

Golden Gryphon Press has done sterling service over the years publishing first collections by promising new writers; the latest is Map of Dreams, by M. Rickert, well known for her stories in F&SF. Rickert is a magic realist with a talent for lyrical prose and bizarre feminist scenarios, which often work rather well in isolating the anxieties of mothers and daughters — their difficult relationships, and how these in turn impact on the husbands and fathers on the periphery of the situation. Sometimes, though, Rickert focuses just as fruitfully on marriages troubled for other reasons, or on teenage romances obstructed by parents or mulish social conventions; overall, she is a poet of the extremes housed within the human heart, and adapts the fantastic to the pressing needs of the emotional present.

Map of Dreams opens with a long original novella of the same title, in which Annie Merchant, who has lost her young daughter in a shooting incident in New York (a sniper firing from a rooftop), develops the conviction that the other bereaved person, a novelist named Max Von Feehler, has a means of stepping backwards in time and thus reversing the fatal events. He is evasive, but she follows him to an island off Tasmania, where the Australian aborigines' ability to commune with eternity must clearly inform his technique. Against a background of dreams and hallucinations, time travel does become possible, but the outcome is both less and more than expected, in that there is no rescuing the lost, but Annie, estranged from her husband back in America, finds new love and meaning anyway. Thereafter, she provides the frame for the rest of the book, mystically hearing and relaying to us the stories of other troubled people; and it's significant that Map closes with "The Chambered Fruit," a particularly powerful account of a mother actually recovering her dead daughter by magical means, a fulfillment of Annie's original agenda that brings little joy in its wake.

The tales Annie passes on are paradoxical and illuminating at once — "Leda," a modern version of the myth of a woman raped by a swan, and the twins that result; "Cold Fires," a battle of wills between a man and a woman drifting icily apart, a schism encapsulated in the wayward anecdotes they exchange; "Angel Face," which assails religiosity as a force obscuring the genuine, mundane miracles occurring every day; "Bread and Bombs," a ferocious parable of bigotry and inter-generational incomprehension; "Anyway," a luminous examination of the short-sighted selfishness, fully understandable though it is, that has blighted all of human history; "A Very Little Madness Goes a Long Way," a competition, all unknowing, of devils and angels; "The Girl Who Ate Butterflies," a wry acknowledgment of the conflict between stereotypical love and sheer idiosyncratic craziness; "Many Voices," a disturbing take on murder and reincarnation; "More Beautiful Than You," a rather gratifying vignette of a nerd haunting a jock; "Peace on Suburbia," featuring a messiah in an unexpected place. Late in Map, perhaps for relief, Rickert reveals her wider literary versatility, in "Moorina of the Seals," a brutal historical fable, in "The Harrowing," a very masculine moral revelation, and in "The Super Hero Saves the World," an admirable channeling of the voice of Gabriel García Márquez. M. Rickert has mastered her own distinct creative territory, and has become a formidable writer.

— Nick Gevers, Locus, October 2006


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