Dream Fox and Other Strange Stories by Rosalie Parker
Tartarus Press, p/b, £7.99 (Ebook)
Review by Tori Borne
Rosalie Parker’s 2023 collection Dream Fox and Other Strange Stories is an enigmatic tour de force, which does weird right.
Published by independent UK publisher Tartarus Press – which Parker co-runs along with R.B. Russell, Dream Fox is a delightful collection that isn’t lacking in variety.
The collection starts strong with the story “Beguiled”,a tale in which our narrator – an aristocratic young woman in Imperial Russia – writes to her fiancé about a bookseller for whom she developed an affection. Parker’s exploration of class, privilege, and female confinement in patriarchal structures is expertly executed in a story that felt like Jane Austen’s Persuasion if it was inspired by the gothic works of Mary Wollstonecraft. As the introductory story, this work set the standard for the collection – and set it very high. Parker has a fluid writing style, and the prose – throughout the collection as a whole – was exquisite.
“Dream Fox”, the story from which the collection takes its name, conflates the world of dreams and that of reality in a bid to subvert patriarchal – and pastoral – conventions, where the rebellious actions of the protagonist quite literally lead to transformation. This story was a personal favourite of mine and more than deserving to be the title work. “Dream Fox” struck me with its use of opposition – the wholesome depiction of the fox family versus our young protagonists’ turbulent household – however, it was the use of violence at the tale’s conclusion which shocked me. In a fantastical turn of events, our protagonist goes as far as to shoot her own father in order to save the family of foxes from his intent to exterminate them. This strange tale of generational difference, progress, and, again, transformation was brilliant. It’s impactful and, just like the rest of the collection, beautifully written.
Perhaps the highlight of the collection, however, is Mary Belgrove’s Book of Unusual Experiences – the ‘book-within-a-book’. Mary Belgrove explains in her introduction that, after coming into money due to a lottery win – she decided to use her new-found fortune to collect stories of the supernatural and bizarre. This leads to nine stories – all of which are told through a different and distinctive narrative voice – as various contributors offer their accounts of the supernatural. This was a delight to read. It reminded me of my younger years when I would turn to YouTube seeking the ‘creepypasta’ channels where user-submitted stories were narrated by the channel’s operator. As someone who enjoys ‘real’ accounts of unsolved, mysterious and strange experiences, this part of the collection was a stand-out.
As a whole, this collection is superb. As someone who enjoys the short-story format, finding novels often long-winded and difficult to finish, Dream Fox was the perfect mix of uncanny tales and distorted reality that I couldn’t put down. If you’ve enjoyed short story collections such as Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny, I think Dream Fox would be right up your alley.