For all readers, Rosalie Parker’s Dream Fox and Other Strange Stories offers a perfect example of all the strengths of the modern “strange” short story format. Parker writes an up-to-date take on the classic weird/strange short story in a thoroughly enjoyable collection that capitalizes on the strengths of the format. The writing is superb and varied, though united by an observable feminine vision. Put all of this in a gorgeously designed hardcover, and you have the makings of a book to read and re-read.
“Strange” is a good description of what you’ll find here, but don’t take that to mean that every story involves the supernatural. “Beguiled,” which opens the collection is an excellent setter of expectations. The narrator, a young woman, tells her fiancé in a letter, her story of falling for a bookseller who appears while her intended is absent. The dénouement solves the problems her beguilement creates in a manner that is unexpected, and has the feel of the supernatural without any mention. “Madre de Dios” finds a different fiancé busily deforesting Peru to extract gold, which proves to be a bad choice. The setting and tale are ominous and compelling, with a conclusion that is perfectly unsettling. “Dream Fox,” the title story, uses dreams to shave away reality.
Throughout, expect to find the unsettling and the disturbing evoked by a very precise and individual use of the short story format. Parker loves to construct a tidy and detailed corner of reality and turn that corner into a cliff. She does not write “mini-novels” but she never writes vignettes either. Even as you are falling into the abyss after reading a story, she knows how to complete a narrative. These are weird, odd and satisfying narratives.
Dream Fox concludes with a book within a book, to wit, Mary Belgrove’s Book of Unusual Experiences. It’s a standout delight. Mary Belgrove has come into money, which, she explains in her Introduction, she’s decided to use to collect and publish true stories of the unexplained. The nine tales that follow are told by a variety of characters with an effortlessness that is truly astonishing. Like all good magic, what Parker does here feels simple when both the tales and tellers are quite complex creations. In a sense, they convey the power of Dream Fox as a whole. The stories in Dream Fox have the ring of truth, even if the storytellers are unsure that their experiences are real. Reality is not as certain or precise as the words used to describe it.
Rosalie Parker in person offers up a master class in short story writing, downloadable at this link, or make a cup of tea and listen below.