Rural Dreams by Margaret Hickey, Review: Poignancy

Margaret Hickey’s Rural Dreams short story collection takes a look at life outside the big smoke, introducing us to the kind of characters you might expect in the country, as well as some you might not. Read on for our review.

Rural Dreams Synopsis

Rural Dreams - Margaret Hickey - Book Review BannerFunny, heartbreaking and true; the characters in Rural Dreams are the people we know and grew up with. Some of them might even be us.

A girl finds strength in poetry, a football coach ponders obsession, a woman grapples with the fall-out of an affair and a mother can’t and won’t stop swearing. In ‘Binky’, the character asks, ‘who gets the farm?’ and in ‘Rescue’, a backpacker is pulled out of a crocodile swamp.

Written through the lens of landscape, Rural Dreams highlights the richness of life on the land and showcases the beauty of lives lived outside city walls.

From stories of hardship and loss to homecomings and new beginnings, Hickey’s writing offers both comedy and tragedy, and a snapshot into how the lives of these characters intersect with the Australian landscape.

‘Rural Australia is a dangerously neglected part of our national consciousness — Margaret Hickey populates it with stories that are lively, entertaining and authentic.’ — MARTIN FLANAGAN

(MidnightSun Publishing – October 2020)

Genre: Short Stories, Literature, Drama

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Rural Dreams is a short story collection less about climaxes and more about the moments either side of them. The excitement about the new shoes before the blister, and that startling clarity of hindsight, perhaps I threw the old ones away just a day too soon.

Key themes include the way our surroundings shape us, from our childhood dreams and expectations, right through to our mood on a particular day. The tug of war between city and country, or even our Australian upbringing versus the lure of adventures abroad; the magnetic pull or repulsion of what is familiar, or another location where people first feel like they belong.

And it is not all greener pastures and seaside escapes… darker undercurrents lurk too.

Several stories in this collection poignantly demonstrate the very fine and fragile line between the beauty and danger of isolation, and indeed the overwhelming power of nature (‘mother’ and human) and its enduring cycles of destruction and renewal. Also explored is the alienation, judgement and suspicion of those that do not fit moulds in small-town settings, and the stereotypes that city slickers and country folk alike can wield with a passion akin to wearing team colours.

Hickey eschews literary theatrics, instead focussing on the simplicity and gravitas of authentic moments. Each story is, in its own way, an opportunity for readers (no matter where they live) to pause and reflect on the myriad things that drive, motivate and inspire us. My personal favourite in this collection, the revelatory and heartwarming ‘Coach’.

Rural Dreams is a story collection of thought-provoking understatement, poise and poignancy.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

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More thought-provoking short story and essay collections:
The Watermill by Arnold Zable  /  The Lion’s Den by Anthony Marra  /  The Butcherbird Stories by A S Patric  /  The Hunter & Other Stories of Men by David Cohen  /  Arms Race by Nic Low

About the Author, Margaret Hickey

Margaret Hickey is an award-winning author and playwright from North East Victoria. Hickey’s work has been shortlisted and won prizes in many awards, including the AAWP/ASSF Short Story Award and the Grace Marion Award. Margaret holds a PhD in Creative writing and teaches English at La Trobe University.

This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2020 and the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

* Receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.