Ranging across two centuries, and from the western Himalaya to an Adirondack village, these wonderfully imagined stories and novellas travel the territories of yearning and awakening, of loss and unexpected discovery. A mapper of the highest mountain peaks realizes his true obsession. A young woman afire with scientific curiosity must come to terms with a romantic fantasy. Brothers and sisters, torn apart at an early age, are beset by dreams of reunion. Throughout, Barrett's most characteristic theme—the happenings in that borderland between science and desire—unfolds in the diverse lives of unforgettable human beings.
Although each richly layered tale stands independently, readers of Ship Fever (National Book Award winner) and Barrett's extraordinary novel The Voyage of the Narwhal, will discover subtle links both among these new stories and to characters in the earlier works.
The title story of this volume was selected for Best American Short Stories 2001 and for Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards 2001.
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No one limns the opposing pull of inner and outer worlds more eloquently than Andrea Barrett. Her naturalists, explorers, scientists, and healers are driven to work and above all to know; they categorize, theorize, and collect the phenomena of the natural world with an urgency that feels like physical need. But they are motivated equally by desire and loneliness, and the theme of domestic life runs like a countermelody through each of the six lovely, deeply memorable stories in Servants of the Map. The narrator of the title story, a cartographer in the Grand Trigonometrical Survey of India, is a timid, home- and family-loving man, but the Himalayas strike him with the force of a revelation. The heroine of the lyrical "Theories of Rain" is a creature of strong feelings and appetites, driven to ask questions about the world around her in the same spirit as she longs for a neighbor and mourns the brother separated from her in childhood. Her scientific curiosity is scarcely different from her desire: "Through that channel of longing, the world enters me."
Fans of Barrett's earlier books (the sublime Ship Fever and Voyage of the Narwhal) will delight in tracing the stories and characters that wind in and out of these three books, producing the sense of something lovely, ongoing, and whole. In the final story, Elizabeth finds consolation in her work caring for tubercular patients--"as if, in the order and precarious harmony of this house and those it shelters she might, for all that gets lost in this life, at last have found a cure." The same might be said of science, and of Barrett's art. --Mary ParkAbout the Author:
Andrea Barrett lives in Rochester, New York. Barrett has been a fellow at the Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library. In 2001, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.
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