From the author of the widely acclaimed The Book of Ruth comes a harrowing, heartbreaking drama about a rural American family and a disastrous event that forever changes their lives. The Goodwins, Howard, Alice, and their little girls, Emma and Claire, live on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. Although suspiciously regarded by their neighbors as "that hippie couple" because of their well-educated, urban background, Howard and Alice believe they have found a source of emotional strength in the farm, he tending the barn while Alice works as a nurse in the local elementary school. But their peaceful life is shattered one day when a neighbor's two-year-old daughter drowns in the Goodwins' pond while under Alice's care. Tormented by the accident, Alice descends even further into darkness when she is accused of sexually abusing of a student at the elementary school. Soon, Alice is arrested, incarcerated, and as good as convicted in the eyes of a suspicious community. As a child, Alice designed her own map of the world to find her bearings. Now, as an adult, she must find her way again, through a maze of lies, doubt and ill will. A vivid human drama of guilt and betrayal, A Map of the World chronicles the intricate geographies of the human heart and all its mysterious, uncharted terrain. The result is a piercing drama about family bonds and a disappearing rural American life.
Existence on Howard’s beloved 400-acre dairy farm in rural Wisconsin is insular enough, but the Goodwins are also shut out by the mistrust and misunderstanding of the small community around them. Except, that is, for Dan and Theresa, a couple with whom they have developed a comfortable friendship.
The book begins during a typically-hectic morning at home. Emma, one of the two Goodwin daughters, is having a tantrum at breakfast. In the midst of this, Theresa stops by to leave her own two daughters with Alice for the morning and departs. Distracted by Emma’s demands and the chance finding of her own childhood drawing of a peaceful world, Alice makes a fatal mistake that carries unbearable consequences for both families.
In the midst of dealing with one tragedy, and the loss of her only friend, Alice is soon dogged by the added burden of unfounded accusations from the mother of a neglected boy she often deals with (and dislikes) in her part-time job as the local school nurse.
Told first through Alice’s rich inner dialog, and then Howard’s, the story traces an unrelenting path through unthinkable circumstances before it ends in Alice’s voice once again. In the end almost everything has changed.
But be warned: the prose doesn’t just dog Alice and Howard’s footsteps; it deposits you straight into hearts and minds stripped raw as the pen of Jane Hamilton dips deftly again and again into the inkpot of pain and remorse. Yet, despite all, she has drawn characters illuminated with determination and hope amid the calligraphy of chaos.
Alice is also extremely lonely, but she finds some solace in her friendship with her best friend Theresa. Theresa also has two little girls, and so both young mothers arrange alternating play dates while babysitting each other's children. During a particularly brutally hot day in June - in the midst of a terrible drought - Alice daydreams for just a few crucial moments while the four girls play together. In the space of a few short minutes, Alice's life as much as the lives of everyone around her, takes a tragic turn.
The resulting tragedy only serves to alienate the Goodwins even further from their neighbors, as the residents of Racine begin to close ranks against Alice and her family. When she is subsequently arrested for an unthinkable crime, Alice is devastated by the vicious accusations being made against her - but because Howard is unable to raise her bail - she must remain in jail. While Alice suffers tremendously though her time in jail, she still learns a great deal about human frailty and solidarity.
Meanwhile, Howard and her girls must undergo their own trial by fire. A Map of the World is the touching second novel written by Jane Hamilton. This is a beautifully written story that paints a stunning picture of a marriage placed under serious pressure due to calamitous circumstances. It also poignantly addresses the capricious turns of fate and the lives caught in the unyielding grip of regret.
I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The story was well-written and full of sympathetic characters. I found myself totally immersed in the plot and I could completely understand how a person's entire life could be ruined by false accusations. As a matter of fact, reputations can be totally destroyed by the aftermath. I have actually read this book once before - approximately a decade ago - but as I can barely remember the plot, it's almost like I've never read the book at all. I would give this book a definite A+!
I enjoyed this story about a woman whose best friend's daughter dies while she's babysitting her; who is then charged with an unrelated crime of child abuse and how her relationships with her husband, children and friends change.
In the first, her narrator is contemplating the state of her marriage relationship:
"Because I couldn't make out the blur of the next week, or month, I tried to see though to the end.I would die, and if I was still married to Howard I would be buried next to him. Where would we rest our useless bodies? We might not be allowed a plot in Prairie Center Cemetery, but it would be of little matter, save for our hurt feelings, because Howard would want to be buried with his relatives in Minnesota. ...In the end maybe what marriage offered was the determination of one's burial site. "
In the second example, the same woman is on trial, and she describes one of the witnesses, a psychologist, called to speak against her:
"It wasn't difficult to understand why Dr Bailey could speak to the horror of the body, when his own form - his sunken chest, his slim waist that required a belt for which he likely had to make extra holes - might alone have caused him plenty of trauma and subsequent neurosis. I liked Dr Bailey, felt his sensitivity, his probable fondness for moss and lichens, wild flowers, Debussy."
I laughed out loud at that last sentence...and wondered what Claude Debussy himself would make of it. Only two days ago I had been on the roof of my house and noticed how lichens were covering all the tiles, and some of the lichens were quite wonderfully complex, and perhaps even beautiful. And yes, I've put extra holes in my belt when I was younger and slimmer!
The whole book is full of fascinating observations of things and people. Her photo on the dust jacket shows a very contemplative and thoughtful person - and yet she is obviously not without humor.
I was very interested in this book from the point of view of its exploration of forgiveness. The book doesn't have a neat and complete set of answers, but it does pose lots of questions and offer a variety of forgiveness experience. I guess that's the best you can hope for?
The book explores the thoughts, hearts and emotions of Alice and her husband Howard as the family tries to stabilize itself in a world quickly and dramatically off-kilter.
The writing is evocative and lyrical in many spots, bringing into clarity many different landscapes - the family farm, the jail, the new home. It's characterizations are vivid and insightful. A very good book.
As I opened the cover a couple weeks ago, I discovered a previous reader had left a post-it note: "An awful lot of introspective and retrospective in the beginning. Heats up a bit when trial and jail episodes are told." It was signed with the reader's initials. If that note hadn't been there, I think I would have given up on the story before I had gotten very far, but thanks to it I persevered.
To say I liked A Map of the World would be going too far. However, the story with all that introspection and retrospection made me think. I did get involved with the characters and the concept of how we have a tenuous grasp at best on our own lives, and in the blink of an eye it can all come spiraling out of control. A farm couple, Howard and Alice, struggling to make their living and working hard have two small daughters. They are friends with a couple who also have two daughters and one day while all four girls are at the farm, the friends' youngest daughter wanders away and drowns in their pond. Alice has a breakdown.
Alice has been working part-time as the elementary school nurse. A boy she dislikes who has been abused at home makes some accusations out of spite, and now the whole world has gone crazy in Alice's mind. Meanwhile, sensible, calm Howard can't seem to make sense of the world either.
This is no happily-ever-after story. In fact, I found it depressing reading at a time when I should have been reading cheerful stories. It's definitely food for thought though and I'm not sorry I stuck with it to the end. The quality of Hamilton's writing cannot be denied and I think my literary education is better for having read this book.
I loved this book.After reading 3 pages I came to the shocking realisation that I had already read this book.I still don't know when, and how, where i have read it, but it did not really matter, cause i wanted to re read it anyway and it was very nice to do this in English.Loved the writing style of Jane Hamilton.I felt the fear and guilt of the main character.Thinking how I would react if I would have been in her shoes and I did not pay enough attention when i was babysitting and something would happen to the child.A Real Powerful book.thanks meshe