Maps Of Bliss And Rage

Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky

This collection of eight completely different, unrelated short stories will take you on a trip to eight different and unexpected locations and introduce you to a cast of characters and situations that you won’t soon forget.

Author Mario Dhingsa weaves together these tales in a most unique way–highlighting the physical locations with detailed and vivid descriptions that bring them to life, while also showing how the characters in each story are impacted by their physical settings, outside forces they cannot control, and others who are present in those places with them.

He also adds dashes of history, culture, the supernatural, politics, and brutally honest personal interactions, often based on power or prejudices, and sometimes extreme dislike, to show how individuals and their psyches can be affected by their environment and interpersonal, and sometimes other worldly, interactions. He is also an expert in constructing unexpected endings that will surprise, shock, and sometimes confuse you.  

The adventures start in the sub-zero, frozen landscape of a research station in Antarctica, staffed by a variety of researchers from places ranging from Australia to Russia; to a restaurant in New Zealand playing host to a variety of unnamed characters referred to by their station in life–Diplomat A, Clerk F, Lady N–where the reader is treated to an unexpected comraderie and plot between Clerk F and Lady N, the lover of a high-ranking but not-so-likeable official; to Malta where a widower and the future daughter-in-law he doesn’t like very much experience a miracle that brings the story to another level and an ending that will take you by surprise, and, if you’re like me, even leave you reeling a little bit.

From these extraordinary locales, we are taken to ones in more recognizable places, even if the stories themselves are just as surreal: 1970s Manhattan and a dinner shared between President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger; a cemetery in Rome where spirits share their personal stories with each other while waiting to move on to the next realm (which reminded me just a little bit of the last act in Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town); then on to Switzerland, where we see a Japanese princess who could be in danger along with those trying to protect her; and finally, to England, where we meet the main character Marty and his memories of a favorite teacher who helped change his life.

From the worldly locations, to the often surprising and completely unexpected endings that you don’t see coming, this collection is anything but ordinary, and is worth the read not only for the journeys it will take you on, but also for the lasting effect these stories will have.

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