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A Map of the World: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – December 3, 1999

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Product Details

  • Series: Oprah's Book Club
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (December 3, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720106
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (399 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #390,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, December 1999: In A Map of the World, appearance overwhelms reality and communal hysteria threatens common sense. Howard and Alice Goodheart, the couple at the center of Jane Hamilton's 1994 novel, have labored mightily to create a pastoral paradise in a Wisconsin subdivision. Their 400-acre dairy farm is the last in Prairie Center, and they're working flat out to raise their two young girls in a traditionally bucolic manner. Yet paradoxically, they strike their neighbors as unacceptably modern, and have been treated as interlopers since the day of their arrival. Howard, in love with his vocation, chooses not to believe that they've been frozen out. But Alice, flinty and quick to judge, finds things harder. And her job as school nurse doesn't work wonders for her reputation either. Happily, there's one exception to this epidemic of unfriendliness: their closest neighbors. Theresa and Dan, who also have two young daughters, function as a virtual lifeline for the embattled family.

But in June 1990, whatever idyll the Goodhearts have worked for comes to a permanent end. On a beautiful morning--marred by her 5-year-old's tantrum but still recuperable--Alice looks forward to taking her children and Theresa's youngest for a swim. Distracted for several minutes, she has no idea that the 2-year-old is no longer in the house:

Lizzy had run to the pond and splashed in. It had felt good on her hot feet and she kept running and then she was pedaling and pedaling. She tried to grab hold of the water, pawing for the metal bar, a ladder rung, her mother, but there was nothing. She clutched and flailed.... She sank. The trout that Howard had stocked in the pond swam along through the dark water. They noticed Lizzy out of the corner of their eyes. They had inherited the knowledge of that look, and they knew it by heart.
This is only the first of Alice's body blows. Next, she's questioned about one of her students, a memorably bad seed. On the verge of collapse, she cries out, "I hurt everybody!"--which will later be construed as a confession. Charged with sexual abuse and unable to come up with $100,000 in bail, she is forced to await trial in jail.

Narrated first by Alice, then Howard, and then Alice again, A Map of the World moves from intimate domesticity to courtroom drama with grace and subtlety. Hamilton wrote her book when accusations of abuse in schools and day care were peaking, yet this is not a modish work or an "issue novel" but a lasting creation of several complex lives. At one point, fed up with civil mechanisms, Alice tells her lawyer: "'Let Oprah be the judge.... Let Robbie and me, Mrs. Mackessy, Howard, Theresa, Dan, Mrs. Glevitch--let all of us come before Oprah. Let the studio audience decide. They're nice suburban woman, many of them, dressed for a lark. They have common sense and speak their minds.'" Apparently La Winfrey was listening, since she chose this beautifully observed novel for her book club. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Booksellers should send up three cheers of greeting for this haunting second novel by the author of The Book of Ruth , a beautifully developed and written story reminiscent of the work of Sue Miller and Jane Smiley. A piercing picture of domestic relationships under the pressure of calamitous circumstances, it poignantly addresses the capricious turns of fate and the unyielding grip of regret. Alice and Howard Goodwin and their two young daughters live on the last remaining dairy farm on the outskirts of Racine, Wisc. The farm is Howard's dream, realized with infusions of money from his disapproving mother; but Alice, who is disorganized, skittery and emotionally volatile, is constitutionally unsuited to be a farmer's wife. Her solace is her best friend Theresa, who also has two little girls for whom they alternate days of babysitting. One hot, dry June morning, in the middle of a soul-parching drought, Alice daydreams for a few, crucial minutes while the four girls play. She has rediscovered the map of the world that she made after her own mother died when she was eight; it was an attempt to imagine a place where she would always feel safe and secure. In that short time, one of Theresa's daughters drowns in the Goodwins' pond. As outsiders from the city, the Goodwins have never been accepted in their small community, which now closes forces against them. Still grieving and filled with remorse, Alice, a school nurse, is accused by an opportunistic mother of sexually molesting her son. She is arrested, and since Howard cannot raise bail, she remains in jail, where she suffers but also learns a great deal about human frailty and solidarity. Meanwhile, Howard and the girls undergo their own crucible of fire. Among Hamilton's gifts is a perfect ear for the interchanges of domestic life. The voices of Alice and Howard, who narrate the tale, have an elegiac, yet compelling tone as they look back on the events that swept them into a horrifying nightmare. In counterpoint to the shocks that transform their existence, the drudgery of the daily routine of farm life has rarely been conveyed with such fidelity. Fittingly, however, the death of their hopes as a family coincides with Howard's realization that the farmer's way of life is disappearing as well. The last third of the book, detailing Alice's incarceration among mainly black inmates, is astonishingly perceptive and credible, opening new dimensions in the narrative. One wants to read this powerful novel at one sitting, mesmerized by a story that has universal implications. BOMC and QPB selection.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Jane Hamilton is the author of The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction, and A Map of the World, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and named one of the top ten books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, the Miami Herald, and People. Both The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World have been selections of Oprah's Book Club. Her following work, The Short History of a Prince, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998, her novel Disobedience was published in 2000, and her last novel When Madeline Was Young was a Washington Post Best Book of 2006. She lives in and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin.

Customer Reviews

I put this book down after reading almost 100 pages of it.
Kimberly A. Paternoster
We see the end result of tragedy through the eyes of two very different people who must fight through adversity every day just to survive with their family intact.
J. J. Wells
It's complicated because I found the book interesting, but it was just boring.
Caroline M Arnold

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on January 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Alice Goodwin is a troubled woman living on a dairy farm in Prairie Center, Wisconsin. The mother of two girls, Emma (6) and Claire (3), she is struggling to get her life together. When her husband Howard decided to pursue his dream of being a dairy farmer, she went along with him, but they have been trying to make ends meet. Alice is the school nurse at the local elementary school, and after the terrible drowning of the two-year old neighbor who was in Alice's care, she is suddenly faced with sexual harassment charges from one of the students at the school. While she is in jail Howard desperately tries to keep the family from falling apart, which proves very difficult, and everyone's breath is held leading up to and during the trial. I liked this book, because of the strong emotions and sub-plots. The reader really feels as if he/she is experiencing the unfolding of the carefully planned plot, riding along with the family as they dodge all of the ruts in the road of life. It is amazing to read the story through the eyes of both Alice and Howard. I would recommend this book for most people ages 13 and older.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was hesitant to pick this book after reading some reader reviews describing it as boring, too wordy, and turned off by the death of a child.
On the contrary, I found it very rich, textural, and complex in a very human way. I was never bored and whipped through this in less than a week. I found it fascinating. I loved the way Alice narrated it at first, then Howard, than back to Alice again.
People are very fallible, complex characters and this book finds the perfect pitch to tell that story. It is about surviving trageday, and ultimately, forgiveness.
While this is not a "happy" read, I was not depressed by it either. I get so tired of people complaining about subject matter being depressing and therefore, throwaway. It is through pain we often find joy. For me, a good book, or movie is something that grips me and holds my attention, whether it be happy or sad or both.
This is one of the better books I have read in a long time. I will read more by Jane Hamilton.
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97 of 107 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read this book a few years ago shortly after it was released in paperback. Jane Hamilton is a beautiful, insightful writer with a keen ability to paint realistic characters experiencing very believable emotions. Although I appreciate her immense talent, this book left me feeling empty and sad, rather than enraged, embolded or inspired, as she may have intended. This is a well-written book that deserves all its praise, but reading an emotionally draining book, with little levity to break up the mood, is simply not how I like to spend a rainy afternoon.
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80 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Carol lUBERTO on December 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
I can see the funeral in my mind's eye as I write. I have read Hamilton's other books and found them a bit dull. But, my God, this book will rip your heart out. I actually told the story to my husband on a car trip. We were crying so hard we had to pull over. Astounding piece of fiction.
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124 of 141 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
I was intrigued at the efficient way the author lets us in on the most personal thoughts of these characters, their lives and how their whole world so suddenly changes direction. It is a reminder to all of us that life is not to take for granted and that we can all fall from grace.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Michael Leonard on January 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read A Short History of A Prince last year and I was incredibly impressed with Hamilton's work. So when Oprah picked A Map of the World for her Bookclub I was anxiously anticipating a good read. I must say that I was far from disappointed for the novel which traces the fall and rise of a farm workers family is indeed a sharply beautiful and elegant work. I feel that the triptych like structure is an excellent way of highlighting the different points of view - Alice, her husband Howard and then back to Alice for the final court room scenes. The psychological descriptions of Alice's inability to cope with Lizzie's drowning are riveting. Also, masterful are the decriptions of her husband Howard as he tries to hold up the "home front" when Alice is incarcerated for suspected child abuse. Hamilton's eye for natural detail is great and her use of metaphor terrific. She has a keen ear for natural dialogue and a remarkable capacity to present wonderfully complex three dimensional characters. She really makes us feel Alice, Howard's and Teresa's pain and hurt. The novel works on many levels: as a "map" of family life which slowly disintergrates; a psychological analysis of death grief and loss; and also as a cinematic court room drama (I can't wait to see the film!). The fragilities of economic circumstance are also explored. Nothing in life is ever guaranteed. Hamilton shows the closed mindedness of small town life: the Goodwins were percieved as different, eccentic and hippyish. They didn't fit in and the "god fearing" citizens of the town new it. By writing this novel Hamilton is perhaps making us not only aware of the shortcomings of being different in a homogenious environment but also the pitfalls of trying to build a life in such an insulated and ultimately prejudiced community. A great, important work of literature.
Michael Leonard
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By C. A. HAMPTON on January 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
I must admit that I was skeptical in picking up this book because I did not enjoy The Book of Ruth, a book in which I just could not relate to any of the characters or their life choices. And yet, I was blown away -- I found this work to have such depth of character and so much meaning. Ms. Hamilton writes so beautifully that the characters come alive and you experience their tragedies just as if you were a close friend. Just as one reviewer said, you can't put it down, but you tremble as you turn the page, terrified of what may happen next. It is an amazing story of the power of forgiveness, and surviving (but not triumphing over) adversity.
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