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A Map of Tulsa: A Novel Paperback – March 26, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (March 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142422592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142422595
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #562,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Returning home from college to Tulsa for the summer, teenage Jim encounters wealthy, bohemian Adrienne, a distant acquaintance from high school, and falls in love. At the end of the summer, however, he returns to college and—perhaps improbably—loses touch with her. Five years later he receives an e-mail out of the blue that impulsively sends him back to Tulsa. Lytal’s first novel is dense with the maplike details of a specific place, the city of Tulsa, and also of the intricate geography of two young hearts. Taking himself very seriously, as young adults do, Jim is essentially humorless, as is Adrienne. And though the young man examines his relationship with Adrienne almost microscopically, the pair’s actions often seem arbitrary. Tulsa itself is a character in the novel but one that seems empty, the streets deserted and the city itself like a ghost town. A similar hollowness sometimes seems to infect the book itself. All this aside, however, it is beautifully written. Jim is an aspiring poet, and Lytal brings the same sensibility to his novel, making it, in the final analysis, a memorable reading experience. --Michael Cart


“Fearless, serious, and impressive. . . . Masterly. . . . Captivating. . . . Lytal asks the essential questions: how to be good; how to be an adult; how to live outside one’s head; how to love unselfishly; how to understand if this girl, this town—any of it, anything at all—are indispensable, and if they’re meaningful enough to turn into art. . . .  Girl, town, youth and book are literary devices, as Jim—and Lytal—make clear. But the experience of love and place is not. In the tension between these truths, A Map of Tulsa finds its central insights and strengths. The girl may never have been ours to have. The town may be just a random place we’re from. Youth may be no more than a dream of possibility. But the book: the book is real. And the book, after all, is what we came for.”
—Gary Sernovitz, The New York Times Book Review
“Mr. Lytal, a Tulsa native, gets the push and pull of home just right.”
The New York Times
"This lyrical slow burn of a book is . . . a meditation on place, destiny, and fate."
The New Yorker
“Tender and engaging. . . . . A memorable coming-of-age tale about hometown ambivalence and finding a place in the world. . . . The tension between the cosmopolitan and provincial, the sensuous and the chaste, is a big reason why A Map of Tulsa is so memorable. . . . [Lytal’s] great achievement in A Map of Tulsa is to bring his hometown to life as a place where all sorts of American ghosts can be found living amid the seemingly generic landscape of a midsized, middle-American city.”
—Hector Tobar, The Los Angeles Times
“Jim and Adrienne’s relationship begins with some mild drug use and frottage before lurching into a creepily detailed ménage a trois, at which point the novel begins to shake and rumble like a small, unexpectedly powerful volcano. . . . A Map of Tulsa deserves comparison with the very best novels of its kind, from James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime to Scott Spencer’s Endless Love. It’s also one of the most insightful books about the comforts (and traps) of small-city parochialism I’ve ever read.”
—Tom Bissell, Harper’s
"A Map of Tulsa is superbly evocative of Jim and Adrienne's discoveries of sex, love and jealousy. Mr. Lytal's exhilarating writing is reminiscent of winsome, confessional bildungsromans like Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station (2011) or John Cotter's Under the Small Lights (2010)."
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Fantastic. . . . A Great Gatsby of the plains.”
—Julia Holmes, Men’s Journal
“Ambitious. . . . Witty. . . .  Wise. . . . A joyous elegy to the great, passed-over cities of middle America. . . . Like Bret Easton Ellis’s Clay from Less Than Zero, another kid on break from college, Jim has the freedom to remake himself. . . . And with good old Jim as our eyes and ears, we experience the ecstasy of that first, 20-something romance.”
—The Boston Globe
"[An] elegantly crafted debut novel."
—Chicago Tribune
"Like Goodbye, Columbus, the novel doesn’t pretend that the relationship is anything other than doomed. . . . There’s a fatalism to this tightly constructed novel that makes it a page-turner. Recommended for all who have known the tyrannies of relationships and place."
Dan Duray, The New York Observer

“When he made his publishing debut a decade ago with a short story in McSweeney’s that held its own in the issue with the likes of Denis Johnson and David Means, Benjamin Lytal aimed to make Tulsa, Oklahoma, ‘look like a mournful spaceship.’ That spectral, wasted picture of the city (‘I loved the largeness of Tulsa, its big, summery fragrance, the asphalt, the puff of chemical air-conditioning’) looms over his first novel, in which Jim Praley, home from college, renews an obsession with Tulsa and Adrienne Booker, the girl who never left. Jim and Adrienne race through backyards at dawn and drive the sprawling freeways looking for inspiration for her paintings. As his fixation on Adrienne supersedes his own writing, Jim wanders further, impressionable and lost, an expatriate in his own hometown; Adrienne, in her own way, becomes as tragic a figure as Gatsby’s Daisy.

“From its start, A Map of Tulsa pulses with the vitality of youth. . . . The Cain's, the Center of the Universe—it's all unmistakably Tulsa.”
—Urban Tulsa

“Lytal commands a shadows-on-the-cave-wall symbolism reminiscent of Donald Antrim, and never before has the city of Tulsa been given such resonant characterization.”
—The Daily Beast
“Lytal explores some wonderful, genuine topics in this novel: first love, first home, and how these experiences shape us — even when we reject them.”
—The Cedar Rapids Gazette
“If Catcher in the Rye has lost its raw clout for recent generations of Internet-suckled American youth, here is a coming-of-age novel to replace it. . . . The strength of this debut novel is Lytal’s evocation of place: Tulsa through Jim’s eyes is tenderly revealed. There is magic here if the reader has experienced any such provincial city, for the prose provokes remembered images, acutely vivid.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[A] soulful debut. . . . A Map of Tulsa charts the contours of Jim Praley's own complex and beautiful coming-of-age journey. Benjamin Lytal has written an utterly haunting book that is as much an ode to a city as it is to first love. . . . If this were merely the tale of first love, Benjamin Lytal's novel would already stand head and shoulders over other books in the same genre. His story is moving without being melodramatic, and you can sense Jim's longing and wistfulness in every beautifully crafted sentence.”
“Beautifully written. . . . Lytal’s first novel is dense with the maplike details of a specific place, the city of Tulsa, and also of the intricate geography of two young hearts. . . . Jim is an aspiring poet, and Lytal brings the same sensibility to his novel, making it, in the final analysis, a memorable reading experience.”
A Map of Tulsa is a remarkable novel. Benjamin Lytal has written a glorious and exquisitely crafted work of art, one that poignantly brings to life all the joy and heartbreak of youth with compassion, grace, and wisdom.”
—Dinaw Mengestu, author of How to Read the Air and The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
“Benjamin Lytal understands, and brilliantly captures, how the most aching significance can be wrought from a place, a time, a girl, solely because they were yours. One wouldn’t imagine Saul Bellow and Jarvis Cocker as complementary influences, but that’s the mad genius of A Map of Tulsa, an exhilarating debut unabashedly besotted by home and cheekily, preemptively nostalgic for a youth not yet lost.”
—Mark Binelli, author of Detroit City is the Place to Be and Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!

“Benjamin Lytal illumines a city and the lovers who rev through it in A Map of Tulsa, a wise, moving, beautifully made novel about artistic ambitions in youth. The descriptive prose is a marvel and the characters complex—touching and troublesome and unforgettable.”
—Christine Schutt, author of Prosperous Friends
"A hypnotic, near-mythic evocation of a summer in a city and its devastating aftermath. Sentence by sentence, one of the best first novels I've read."
—Karan Mahajan, author of Family Planning

“Each sentence a virtuoso sleight of language, Benjamin Lytal's A Map of Tulsa hands us nothing less than an unexpected new blueprint of the American soul. Allowing for chambers previously near unexplored in contemporary fiction, it traces the curious corridors of desire between the heartland and the coast, loving and climbing, homesickness and ambition, artists and intellectuals, the loyal and the free. This is fiction of the greatest power and most enduring interest.”
—Ida Hattemer-Higgins, author of The History of History

“The plot involves a penthouse in a skyscraper, an oil fortune, a motorcycle accident, dancing in bars, taking pills, and having sex outside. But mostly it’s about walking around the city — your hometown, reconquered — and wondering what your destiny will be.”
—Christian Lorentzen, The Millions

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Customer Reviews

I didn't particularly like any of the characters.
Paula Beth
I am from there and didn't really think it was a good story and not that well written either, by the way.
Cameron Emmott
I don't get what everybody else sees in this book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on March 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
A Map of Tulsa is both a love story and a coming of age novel. The former is more successful than the latter.

Jim Praley is back in Tulsa for the summer, having finished his freshman year of college. He soon finds himself hanging out with Adrienne, the sexually adventurous daughter of a wealthy family. Having dropped out of high school, Adrienne wants to be an artist (an avocation Jim encourages by sharing the knowledge he gained in the art history class he took during his freshman year) or a singer.

Jim is an odd duck, sometimes too odd to believe. He tells us that buying condoms is an "embarrassment that was endemic to my heart." Apart from his questionable use of the word "endemic," this story isn't set in the 1950s when buyers had to ask a pharmacist for condoms that were kept behind the counter. I find it hard to believe he couldn't go to Target (his favorite store in Tulsa) and toss a package of condoms into his shopping cart without upsetting his heart. Jim can't take Adrienne to Target because Target reminds him of his childhood and he "kept certain parts of myself back," including -- for reasons I can't begin to fathom -- shopping at Target. Jim seems to think that's deep, but I thought it was a little silly.

Part one establishes Jim's relationship with Adrienne. Part two begins with Jim's return to Tulsa five years later. Adrienne's life has changed drastically, while Jim (despite living and working in New York) hasn't changed in any meaningful way. In a conventional coming of age novel, the protagonist makes a life-altering decision, faces a moral crisis, or in some other way loses innocence, gains wisdom, or takes a significant step toward maturity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen T. Hopkins VINE VOICE on July 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
I was engaged and entertained by Benjamin Lytal's debut novel, A Map of Tulsa. The friendship between Jim Praley and Adrienne Booker provides the backdrop for this coming of age story. Lytal addresses loss and grief in the novel in ways that seemed fresh and familiar at the same time. While I have never been to Tulsa, the geography of that place became so detailed and specific it was as if the place were another character in the novel. Readers who enjoy coming of age stories and are willing to take a chance on a debut novel are those most likely to enjoy this well-crafted work.

Rating: Four-star (I like it)
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bookish2 on June 4, 2013
Format: Paperback
This is such an unusual, witty, sometimes wistful first novel by a writer with what seems a genuine poetic sensibility. Occasionally Lytal's style reminded me of Tom McCarthy's in Remainder--dry, arch, detached but somehow fervent at the same time. A Map of Tulsa also reminded me of Michael Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh. There are strong similarities to Chabon in particular: the wry sense of humor, but a passionate desire too to be loved and understood. I can see many more books and more fame and eventually, awards coming to Lytal, as they did to Chabon.

The narrator, Jim Praley, falls in love with a more or less parentless heiress, Adrienne Booker, whose family owns and manages Booker Petroleum. They spend most of the summer between Jim's freshman and sophomore year at college together, and both are wary of expressing the depth of their feelings for each other - I loved that the sincerity of their attachment is revealed slowly and with such deftness. The second of the novel's two sections is a study in writerly restraint and skill - Lytal takes on large themes - love, mortality, art, identity and how it is tied to the place where one grows up and the people one first loves, often with frightening but enlivening ardor.

This is a remarkable and memorable novel. I look forward to reading Lytal's next book and hope not to have to wait too long.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Louis Foster on April 22, 2014
Format: Paperback
This intense and riveting coming of age story set in Tulsa is about many things including youth, art, and love. The narrator, Jim Praley, is visiting his hometown after his first year of college on the East Coast. During a desultory summer of hanging out with high school classmates he falls in with Adrienne Booker, the searching, artistic daughter of an oil dynasty who lives in a penthouse aerie above the city in a tower named for her family. He watchers her paint, reads her poetry, and just generally hangs out with her and other Tulsans, richly describing a culture which is part urban, part suburban. Leaving town again to pursue his education and his art, Praley is drawn back to Tulsa in the second half of the novel by a tragedy which brings him back into contact with Adrienne’s friends and family and pulls him out of his starving artists’ existence in New York City.

Benjamin Lytal’s gorgeous prose is the perfect lens through which to see these characters who meander meaningfully and thoughtfully through their young adult years. Jim’s muse is Adrienne, the feckless, glamourous, and artistic young woman who attracts him and lies just beyond his understanding. But Lytal’s muse is Tulsa and he delights in describing its architecture and the way the city is laid out, it’s neighborhoods and hotels and roads, the way it looks and the way it smells. The result is a sophisticated, multilayered portrait of the city known for its Art Deco architecture and oil industry which encompasses those features but adds to and transcends them, giving us so much more than a postcard picture and revealing the culture of the place.

This is a wonderful novel which captures the lack of purpose inherent in adolescence, grounding its story in a setting which is richly described and will be new to many.
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