From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

D*U*C*K by Poppy Z. Brite, Map of Dreams by M. Rickert

D*U*C*K by Poppy Z. Brite
Subterranean Press, 137 pages, $35

There is only one fantasy element in D*U*C*K, but it is a big one: Hurricane Katrina never happened. Marking her first piece of original fiction since New Orleans suffered at the hands of nature and government, Poppy Z. Brite creates a novella around her well-loved chefs, Rickey and G-man, and their famous restaurant, Liquor. After a few bad turns, Rickey gets the chance to cater an annual banquet for a hunter/conservationist group called Ducks Unlimited. More importantly, the guest of honor is Rickey’s childhood hero, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. This simple tale is deceptive, however, as much emotion simmers beneath the surface. The characters suffer the shackles society forces upon them, yet they do so with a smile. To the very last sentence, though, the reader knows this is fantasy: All the rises and falls of Rickey and G-man could never have happened because their city was under water. In one sense, Brite has created a love letter, a friendly nod, and an obituary for her city; in another, it is a cathartic journey for the author. For the reader, D*U*C*K is a small tale about regular folks and their regular troubles, but one in which humor, love, fear are all abundantly present. Brite’s straight-forward style captures tremendous emotion, even from a mundane event. Considering what the real New Orleans still looks like, D*U*C*K is a fantastic piece of wish fullfillment. ( ISBN: 978-1-5960-6076-0)

MAP OF DREAMS by M. Rickert
Golden Gryphon, 316 pages, $24.95

M. Rickert is easily one of the most exciting new writers to appear in the fantasy field over the past several years. Her stories are lyrical and odd, often myth-derived, often intriguingly framed. Story collections for new writers who have not yet published a novel used to be rare, but they are common these days. Sometimes such collections seem too early, but for Rickert such a collection is, if anything, overdue. Indeed, in a sense, she has now published a novel: the title story, new to this collection, is near-novel length at about 40,000 words. (“Map of Dreams,” along with several vignettes also new here, serves as a curious sort of frame for the book — appropriate as Rickert is a contemporary master of the frame story.) It is an absorbing and moving story of a woman overcome by grief after her daughter is murdered by a sniper. Her marriage collapsing, she follows the husband of another of the sniper’s victims to Australia, convinced he has learned to travel in time. This is fine work, but the resolution is a bit too pat and, over its length, the story loses some focus. But the collection also includes some truly outstanding shorter works, beginning with her first published story, “The Girl Who Ate Butterflies.” Other stand-outs include “Anyway,” about the agony of a woman whose son is about to join the military and the terrible choice she is offered; and “The Chambered Fruit,” somewhat reminiscent of “Map of Dreams” as it tells of a mother battling with her grief over a murdered daughter and the effect on her of a girl who claims to hear from the daughter’s ghost. “Angel Face,” about a supposed image of the Virgin and a boy taken with a skeptical girl, is also notable. Rickert does unusual takes on the myth of Leda and the nativity story. This is an essential collection by a superb writer. (ISBN: 1-9308-4644-4)

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