In his lovely introduction for M. Rickert’s debut story collection Map of Dreams, Chris Barzak shares an anecdote from a letter about process she wrote him. She said:
And, I had forgotten this, but in about fourth grade, fifth grade? I don’t know but I was young, and basically fairly unpopular and a skinny, cross-eyed girl with cat-eye glasses and I wrote this story that I decided to perform for the class as a monologue. So the whole thing is about how nobody likes me or plays with me and I don’t know why, and how alone I am, and how I try to fit in. The last line is something like, "Then she turned and walked away dragging her tail behind her."
So I’m the girl with the tail. One of the hardest parts of my life as a writer was figuring that out.
And if that doesn’t make you want to read this collection more than anything else I’m going to say, well, what’s your deal?
Mary Rickert is one of the best short story writers working today. The first story of hers I read was "Bread and Bombs," side by side with a George Saunders story, "The Red Bow," exploring similar thematic territory–her story more than held its own. (Yes, I know technically Ben’s "The Valley of the Giants" separates them, but I’d already read it.) I thought: who on Earth is this writer? Which is what Chris says he also felt when he first encountered Rickert’s work. I have a feeling there’s an army of people (small, but growing) out there with similar stories. "The first time I read an M. Rickert story, I sat up and said, Who is this amazing writer and where did she come from?"
So, the collection. It collects all sorts of her fantastic (in multiple senses of the word) previously published stories–I’ll particularly recommend here "Bread and Bombs," "Cold Fires," "Anyway," and "Leda." But there aren’t any bums in the lot; there are stories I don’t love as much or that maybe don’t rise to quite the same level, but every story in the bunch is worth reading. Every story is thoughtfully, beautifully constructed and has something specific to say. Often collections can have a samey quality that undercuts them; by the same token, you want a collection to feel unified. Each story here is different, its own thing, but Rickert’s voice unites them. Concerns echo, but don’t repeat.
I’ll finish by saying that the title novella, published here for the first time, is as wonderful as anything else Rickert has written. Novellas frequently seem awkward to me. Often, they seem like fat short stories, plump on extraneous detail. Or, conversely, like too-short novels, with the story smushed and abbreviated, thinned out. "Map of Dreams" feels just right. As if it could never have been anything else, as if there’s not a stray word in it. It’s such a satisfying story. A woman witnesses her daughter murdered by a sniper, then discovers she might be able to travel back in time to change things through an intersection of physics and the Aboriginal Dreaming. Her journey is fascinating and surprising, and the combination of odd elements never feels forced. It would be worth buying the collection just for this.
And, more than that, it makes me want a novel from Rickert so so so badly. In fact, I’d try to start a Make M. Rickert Write a Novel movement, except her bio says she’s already working on one. I could start a Make M. Rickert Finish Her Novel movement instead, but you don’t want to rush a writer like this. The wait will be worth it.
2 thoughts on “Dreaming Oddities: “Map of Dreams””
I need to order this. Like now.
Just spent a weekend in Florida hanging out a bit with Mary Rickert at the ICFA. Very nice person. When she recieved The Crawford Award for Map of Dreams she gave a truly moving and eloquent speech about the “Building” of fantasy we (writers, readers, scholars, teachers, critics) occupy. Someone should ask her to reprint it somewhere. It’s worth keeping. Discovered we both love Nabokov’s Pale Fire.
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