The Dream Sleepers and Other Stories (1980) is the second collection of short stories in Patricia Grace’s Collected Stories. My review of the first collection, Waiariki, is here.
Like Waiariki, the stories in The Dream Sleepers, portray Maori island and rural life. The cast of characters is multi-generational with a bit more concentration on the lives of Maori youth and children. What fascinates and amazes me about the characters in Grace’s short stories are their voices, their sense of self and place. The tone is intimate and Grace draws the reader into a world which is largely unknown to most of us. I mean I feel like I really know the Maoris of New Zealand; that if one walked into my house we could sit down and catch up on old times! It’s simplistic, I know. To get such a sense of a people from reading just two short story collections but such is the power of Grace to invoke her people. It’s obvious and very successful; she means to write them.
Her narrative style is also enjoyable. She successfully combines a poetic, lyrical style with oral storytelling to produce passages that are just a delight to read. Her characters go to school, clean the offices of Pakehas, seek more control over their land, come of age, ponder old age and deal with the demands of large families; all against the background of a people coping with the realities of a post-colonial environment. The socio-economic situation of the Maoris is always felt in Grace’s stories. So too are the land and the sea, both of which occupy a central place in Maori life. From Whitebait, a story in which kids go fishing and camping:
At most times of the year the creek kept its secrets to itself. In the armpits of its banks, eels tucked themselves, and outsized worms made quite, intricate passages. Brown trout and cockabullies fed against the creek’s knobbled belly. And the transients – larvae of dragon, damsel and may fly – waited for the time when they would climb out into air and fly away. But at this time of the year the creek abandoned secrecy, and as though parting great legs and giving sudden and copious birth, set crowds of whitebait speeding for the sea.
In Journey, on a trip to Auckland to seek permission to demarcate his ancestral land, an old man ponders the changes on the island:
Now this strip here, it’s not really land at all, it’s where we used to get our pipis, any time or tide. But they pushed a hill down over it and shot the railway line across to make more room for cars. The train driver knows it’s not really land and he is speeding up over the strip. So fast you wait for the nose dive over the edge into the sea.. Not to worry, he’s nearly old anyway and just about done his dash, so why to worry if they nose dive over the edge into the sea. Funny people putting their trains across the sea, Funny people making land and putting pictures and stories about it in the papers as though it’s something spectacular, it’s a word you can use if you get it just right…
The stories in this collection are not uniformly as strong as those in Waiariki. However, the gems in The Dream Sleepers confirm my initial impression of Patricia Grace; she is a wonderful writer. She writes brilliantly of both the Maori and the human condition.