Dreams of Distant Shores – Patricia A. McKillip

I’ve talked about my List plenty of times, that list of authors I always followed long before Goodreads made it so easy to do so. Patricia McKillip is someone I discovered in grade school. What my elementary school library was doing with a copy of [book:The Forgotten Beasts of Eld] I don’t know; I haven’t read it since then, but my sense-impression is that it was a little beyond that level. I’ll have to read it again soon to find out. I remember loving it, with a sort of uneasy feeling that there were things in there that I wasn’t quite ready for at that age.

Anyway. McKillip is a beautiful writer. I can’t put my finger on why she isn’t one of my absolute favorites, but there’s no denying that her prose is absolutely lovely. There are a lot of books that fade quickly from memory, but with this collection it only took reading the story titles for each tale to come flooding back in full technicolor. Dreams of Distant Shores is a collection of nine stories which – as stories in collections will – range from completely wonderful to … just fine. (I think I finally put my finger on one reason I am not very fond of short story collections, beside the fact that they are rarely consistent in quality: There are no solutions provided in short stories. Maybe I’m shallow, but … often I like solutions in my fiction.)

And these tales are:

“Weird” – which is. It’s short, and it’s disconcerting, and it’s suspenseful – partly because you’re hanging on to every word trying to figure out what on earth is going on. Loved it.

“Mer” – is the tale of a witch making her way through the world and time, apparently oblivious to the results of her actions on the mundane populace around her. It was a little distant, in a way, but nice.

“The Gorgon in the Cupboard” was far and away my favorite. The story of an artist and his muse, and true love, was everything I could ask for, but don’t usually ask for because I’m not going to get it. It was so good. I have felt deep empathy for Medusa since I first read her full story – she was wronged. She was so badly wronged.

“I go where I’m invited. Where I am invoked. When I hear my name in someone’s heart, or in a painting or a poem, I exist there. The young thug Perseus cut my head off. But he didn’t rid the world of me. I’ve stayed alive these thousands of years because I haven’t been forgotten. Every time my name is invoked and my power is remembered anew, then I live again, I am empowered.”

“Which Witch” gives “Gorgon” a run for its money as favorite. I would be delighted to read a full novel – a series! – centered around this band of witches (a band as in a collective, and also a band as in people who make music together). Where “Gorgon” was complete in and of itself and made me happy as a discrete unit, with this story I want more. I so very much want more. Please?

“Edith and Henry Go Motoring” is also odd, and oddly poignant. I honestly don’t know what else to say about it – I was baffled, it was excellent, and I liked it.

“Alien” is the story of a grandmother whose family assumes she’s succumbing to dementia because she talks about having met aliens and how she is waiting for them to come back… but is she? – and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It had the feeling I’ve begun to associate with McKillip again of a sweet sadness.

We watched the stars, wanting and not wanting strangeness, change, danger. Wanting and not wanting aliens.

The last and longest story, “Something Rich and Strange”, started out beautiful – I loved it … but I loved it less and less as it went on and on. It became a heavy-handed ecological story (the sea is angry about all the abuse it’s taken at human hands). It’s beautiful throughout, as is inevitable with McKillip’s work, but just too long after the rest of the book, and just … overly overt, and a little wearying.

That was the last story, but the last piece was the essay “Writing High Fantasy”, a rather informal and entertaining exploration of … what it says on the tin. Excellent. I didn’t agree with all of it (or, at least not with Jung), but – excellent.

There is no question that Patricia McKillip belongs on, will forever stay on, my List. Like the ocean explored in “Rich and Strange”, there are depths, darkness and light, and strange beings here. “The fierce, underlying point of all the froth and bother” … wow.

“To invent a convincing love potion you must, for a moment, make even the reader fall in love.”

“What was that old tale about a ship? A flying ship?”
“The USS Enterprise?”

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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