I am pleased-as-punch to share with you, readers, my review of a collection of short stories written by a former co-worker of mine. A little more than two years ago, I found myself in the employ of one of Lexington’s much beloved local book stores, Joseph Beth Booksellers. During my time there, I was introduced to Christopher Rowe. Christopher is a talented writer (who as it happens, is married to another talented writer, Gwenda Bond) and his collection Telling the Map was released in July of this year. Telling the Map has received its’ fair share of praise, and for good reason! It was reviewed favorably by Kirkus Reviews, and Karen Joy Fowler even goes so far as to say that Rowe is one of her favorite writers and that he “writes a wild story, but his particular brand of weird is shot through with warmth and humor.”
Each story takes place in Kentucky or Tennessee, and although the stories are liberally peppered with places I have been, the terrain is not familiar to me. Rowe cunningly creates a dystopian Kentucky flavored with new (and often dangerous) technologies, startling new creatures, and haunting new landscapes. In all, there are ten stories. And while it is easy for me to choose my favorites (“The Contrary Gardener,” “Gather,” and his novella “The Border State,”) each of them are clever, compelling and striking. Each story presents a different dystopia, a different “what if?” Each dystopia is vivid and unique, and utterly different from the one that came before.
Christopher Rowe is an expert world builder. His new Kentucky, although terrifying, is exciting to explore. In “Another Word for Map is Faith,” the landscape is being rapidly reinvented by a group of evangelical cartographers right in front of the reader’s very eyes. In his short story “The Voluntary State” the dystopian landscape even lays claim to human beings and animals, as the citizens of Tennessee have chosen to allow the technology of a government that has overstepped its’ bounds to infiltrate their minds. In “The Border State,” the companion novella, rivers have gained consciousness. The river waters of Kentucky have become treacherous as they are contaminated by run-off from Tennessee, and they contain the technology that has infiltrated the minds of Tennessee’s citizens. When the water chooses to attack, it can claim the minds of those that enter for its’ own purpose. However, if you know the right notes it can be lulled to sleep through song.
I cannot sing the praises of Telling the Map loudly enough! This is a masterful collection, expertly rendered by a more than competent story teller. Rowe takes his readers on a wild and thrilling ride through the hills and valleys of a Kentucky that could be. This collection would be a wonderful addition to any library, and I highly recommend procuring a copy for your own perusal.