In this collection of short stories, Conroy employs diverse voices to address a variety of topics, giving the reader a rich menu of choices. Her writing style feels a little bit unconventional, yet not experimental; it’s very fluid and enjoyable to read.
In the title work, she juxtaposes the story of two modern-day collectors of historical maps with mini narratives about the real figure of Mercator, the famous mapmaker. The relationship between the two collectors–one an older man who possesses an original Mercator map that the other covets–unfolds in mutual admiration as the two men engage in a genteel diplomatic sparring match: the holder of the coveted map insists he has no intention of selling it, yet the other is not willing to give up hope. I found myself developing a similar respect and affection for both these men as I wondered whether the map would ever change hands. It ends leaving you quite certain of how it will finally resolve itself, yet not quite spelling it out for you.
As for Mercator himself, the reader learns what a tremendously controversial figure he was in his day and what great personal risks he took to create his map, thus increasing our appreciation of the map’s significance.
But this story is no more typical than any other in this book. They all vary widely in their relationship to factual reality and the extent to which the stories are resolved at the end.
The first one, “Mud-Colored Beauties of the Plains,” seems at first to be reporting on real events, then evolves into fantasy while maintaining a feeling that it really happened. It reminds me of magical realism with its bizarre twist on seemingly natural phenomena. It unfolds like a mystery, keeping you wondering what will happen next.
What these stories do have in common is the way they explore the human condition and our relationship to the natural world and to our past, giving the reader much to think about.
_Alicia Conroy will read from_ The Lives of Mapmakers _at 7:30 pm on Thursday, September 7 at Amazon Bookstore in Minneapolis._
_Sharon Parker is a freelance editor in Minneapolis. She and her husband, Craig Cox, publish the online local news source,_ The Minneapolis Observer (“http://www.mplsobserver.com”:http://www.mplsobserver.com), _and a print quarterly called_ MOQ, _a journal of nature, art and urban miscellany._