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Servants of the Map by Andrea Barrett




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The Past Comes Alive

Andrea Barrett presents well-crafted short stories in her new collection, Servants of the Map. In the title story, readers are transported to the Himalayas of the 1860s, and watch the mountains transform scientist Max Vigne, especially through his letters home to his wife, Clara. Here’s an excerpt from an early letter:

“The triangulators leap from peak to peak; if they are the grasshoppers, we plane-tablers are the ants. At their abandoned stations we camp for days, collecting topographical details and filling in their sketchy outline maps. You might imagine us as putting muscle and sinew on the bare bones they have made. Up through the snow we go, a little file of men; and then at the station I draw and draw until I’ve replicated all I see. I have a new plane-table, handsome and strong. The drawing-board swivels on its tripod, the spirit level guides my position; I set the table directly over the point corresponding to the plotted site of my rough map. Then I rotate the board with the sheet of paper pinned to it until the other main landscape features I can see – those the triangulators have already plotted – are positioned correctly relative to the map.”

My other favorite of the six stories presented is “The Cure” set in the Adirondacks of the early 1900s, where people with tuberculosis would come for rest and clean, dry air. The characters Barrett presents in each story are memorable and there are links between them and characters in other Barrett works. It’s enjoyable to spend a short while with each story, spellbound by Barrett’s well-written narrative.

Steve Hopkins, February 1, 2002


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