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A Map of the World: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – December 3, 1999
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"Jane Hamilton has removed all doubts that she belongs among the major writers of our time." --San Francisco Chronicle"Stunning prose and unforgettable characters . . . an enthralling tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying ways our lives can spin out of control." --Entertainment Weekly"It takes a writer of rare power and discipline to carry off an achievement like A Map of the World. Hamilton proves here that she is one of the best." --Newsweek"Ms. Hamilton has done a nimble job of showing us how precarious the illusion of safety and security really is." --The New York Times"Hamilton's chillingly accurate prose keeps her fine novel buoyant. She is superb in her observation of the natural world and in her examination of psychological nuance." --The Washington Post
From the Publisher
Pen /Hemingway Award-winning novelist Jane Hamilton follows up her first success, The Book Of Ruth, with this spectacularly haunting drama about a rural American family and a disastrous event that forever changes their lives.
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The bad news about this novel is that all the characters are just so ordinary. Even the extraordinary circumstances in which they find themselves (a toddler drowning and child sex abuse charges) don't serve to bring out anything exceptional in these characters. At the end of this book, I felt that Jane Hamilton had played with her readers by basing her story on such sensational and emotion-filled events. Usually an author uses events like these to bring out the best or worst in her characters. In this case, nothing changes. The Goodhearts (can you believe this name?), are just as ordinary at the end of the book as they were at the beginning. While Hamilton tries to make them seem extraordinary because they are latter day hippies in the middle of suburbia, she does not succeed. The horrible events, not the characters or plot, carry this story. The ending of the book is predictable and not terribly interesting.
A Map of the World centers around Alice, a woman that seems to march to a different drummer, and apparently does not seem to fit in with regular society. There is nothing really wrong with her, but for some reason, she lacks the social skills that helps others fit in. She is married to a wonderful husband Howard, who is as different from Alice as night is from day. I couldn't understand why anyone would be drawn to Alice, but Howard obviously loved her.
The story opens with Alice in a panic, taking care of her two young daughters and her friend Theresa's two girls, while Theresa is out. Alice obviously does not enjoy taking care of the kids. Motherhood does not suit her.
What happens next is what sets the tone of the book. The younger of Theresa's two girls, Lizzie, drowns outside in the pond where the girls often played. The reader and the characters in the book wonder, "Whose fault was it?" The town has already made up their mind about Alice, and it is not favorable. However, Theresa stands by her friend, despite the great loss she and her husband Dan have just gone through.
This is only the beginning of Alice's troubles. Rumors start to circulate about Alice and her work as a school nurse. What follows is a series of events that threatens to tear Alice's family apart.
From reactions I received from friends, and reading the reviews at Amazon, I've noticed that this is probably one of the more difficult books to get through that Oprah chose for her book club. I'm the only person I know that actually enjoyed this book. What kept me reading was Jane Hamilton's beautiful writing style. That alone was worth reading this book. The story is depressing and the main character is not a likeable person at all. Despite this, I do recommend the book, but with a word of caution, that one needs to be patient in order to finish this book.
The writing is of good-enough quality, but long-winded and indulgently self-reflective. The characters are solid, but seem like passing strangers to whom one has no connection. The situation is very sad, but Alice's paralysis by her own self-pity grates on your nerves. I found myself angry that I had to read to the end just to find out what happens. Finally, the epilogue seems tacked on, as though the author felt it unnecessary to discuss the most important part of Alice's emotional journey.