A Map of the World

by Jane Hamilton

Hardcover, 1994

Call number




Doubleday (1994), Edition: 1st, 389 pages


Fiction. Literature. HTML: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. 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 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member JGoto
I’m not sure just exactly what was so compelling about Jane Hamilton’s A Map of the World, but I found it very difficult to put down. Perhaps it was the all too possible nightmare of taking care of a friend’s child and having a fatal accident occur in a split second of negligence. Or maybe it
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was the experience of having a colleague falsely and ridiculously accused of child abuse. The reactions of the characters in this novel to the chain reaction of events in this story, as well as their responses to one another, are beautifully portrayed. Despite the difficult subject matter, I enjoyed reading this book.
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LibraryThing member wordpath
Insult added to trauma piled upon tragedy…and yet there is hope. First published in 1994, A Map of the World follows the journey of a counterculture couple, Alice and Howard Goodwin, through a cruel and life-altering year of their marriage.
Existence on Howard’s beloved 400-acre dairy farm in
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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.
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LibraryThing member suequeblue
I really struggled with this book. I thought the beginning was pretty good, but then went downhill fast. Some of the author's writing was lovely, but overall, a lot of detail that in my opinion did nothing for the characters or the story. Glad it is over.
LibraryThing member moonshineandrosefire
Although Alice and Howard Goodwin and their two young daughters have lived in Racine, Wisconsin for several years, they are still considered to be relative outsiders by a majority of the townspeople. The family actually operates the last remaining dairy farm which is located on the outskirts of the
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town. While the farm has always been a dream of Howard's; finally realized by infusions of money given to him by his disgruntled mother, Alice considers herself to be constitutionally unsuited to be a farmer's wife. She works as a school nurse because she loves children, but is otherwise disorganized, skittish and emotionally volatile.

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+!
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LibraryThing member JBarringer
Well written novel about how life has a way of crumbling out from under your feet without much, if any, warning.
LibraryThing member cidnee
This is one of my very favorite books. I loved it. It is about marriage, friendship, loss, blame, guilt and renewel. It underscores the undeniable fact that "life goes on" and it has very little to do with any one individual. This is a wonderful book.
LibraryThing member NotSunkYet
I liked this book. Some reviews mention that it is depressing, but I think that is what makes the book 'real'. No fake, happily-ever-after ending. Sometimes, most times that's how life is. It is what you make of it.
LibraryThing member alienhard
Well-written but possibly the most depressing book I've ever read. I put it down about half way through and never went back. Call me weird, but I don't like reading stories that make me feel like bad.
LibraryThing member marcyhelen
I bought this book to read on the plane, when my husband and I traveled to Italy about two weeks ago. The opening about the nature of the fall from grace drew me in. But once the point of view changed from the character of Alice to the character of Howard, I became bored. I felt as if the
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characters were reporting on their interior life to some implied audience. A bit too pedantic. This is not to say that there were not some beautifully writtne passages about land and history and relationships. But that wasn't enough to keep my interest.
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LibraryThing member estellen
The plot grabbed me - but the writing left much to be desired.
LibraryThing member LynnB
This is a beautifully written story about friendship, marriage and how life can go so horribly wrong...and you don't realise it until it's too late.

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
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abuse and how her relationships with her husband, children and friends change.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
I had heard of this novel without knowing too much about it. I only knew that something happened in the beginning that changes the lives of the characters. I almost didn't want to know as I began reading and came to the realization that Alice, the main character and co narrator is responsible for
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the death by drowning of her best friend's 2 year old daughter. As if this isn't bad enough, Alice, while still unraveling over the tragedy, becomes accused of sexually abusing several students in the Elementary School where she works as the nurse. It is almost as if the accusation and eventual time spent in a women prison has more to do with the accidental death than it does with the 6year old boy's accusation. Alice's guilt over the first event makes her seem okay with the time spent away from her family. I found the novel at first a little melodramatic, but started liking it more when the husband took a turn at the narration. I found the courtroom proceedings and the eventual reality of what a trial of this nature can be like to be very interesting, that and the change that took hold of Alice as she dealt with the events. This seemed almost Kafkaesque as Alice is in jail for something she did not do, yet is guilty for not supervising the little girl. Other scenes of interest in the novel include the amazingly forgiving attitude of Theresa, the mourning mother, the life inside a women’s prison, the resiliency of the children who become more independent as their life goes more awry, and the way the local townspeople so willingly jump on the bandwagon of accusation. I would be interested the author’s first book which won a Pen/Faulkner Award.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
Definitely engaging in the sense that I wanted to get to the end and find out what happened. But ultimately unsatisfying. There was no resolution, no learning, no insight - just suffering without meaning or hope.
LibraryThing member dimestorenovel
I read this book ages ago - before it was an Oprah book. It is well-written but it is amazingly depressing. No spoiler in this review - just be forewarned that this book is really sad and filled with hopelessness. No happy ending here.
LibraryThing member CatieN
Howard and Alice live on a small dairy farm in southeastern Wisconsin. The housing developments are coming closer and closer, but Howard and Alice love their 400 acres and their cows and their pond and their orchard. Sharing the farm are their two daughters, Emma and Claire. The townspeople think
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they are odd living in their rundown farm house, and the only friends they have made are Theresa and Dan, a couple also with two daughters. Howard lives and breathes his farm, and Alice tends to the house and the girls and also works part-time as the elementary school nurse. Life seems good on the day that Theresa drops her girls off for Alice to baby-sit while she has lunch with her mother. Tragedy strikes and life is altered for Alice and Howard beyond anything they could possibly imagine. A gripping, page-turner with characters and settings so well-drawn you almost expect to see them around the next corner. Unforgettable story.
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LibraryThing member busymombookclub
I LOVED this book - I didnt want it to end
LibraryThing member neddludd
My God, what a sad book. I stopped reading a third of the way through; it was that unremittingly bleak. Other female authors leaven their insights into sadness with occasional rays of sunlight, but for Hamilton, this could be a case study in depression. It became work to open the book, and
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eventually, unpleasant work. Only for the very strong, or very sad.
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LibraryThing member DomingoSantos
Jane Hamilton is an incredible writer! What a consummate wordsmither! Hamilton's skill in getting inside the head and personality of the characters is nothing short of amazing. A must read.
LibraryThing member oldblack
I reckon Jane Hamilton is a great writer, and this book is a good example of her work. She can see things from a different perspective, and yet, when she presents that vision, the reader understands it. Here's a couple of examples:

In the first, her narrator is contemplating the state of her
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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?
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LibraryThing member SallyApollon
Not quite sure what happened with this book, it was about 10 years ago, and I'm pretty sure I didn't finish it--rare thing for me...
LibraryThing member andersonden
This was a hard book to read because the narrators' viewpoints were so alien from my own. It was a good way to learn about others, however. The basic story revolves around a thirtyish mother who is somewhat disorganized and easily distracted. These traits lead (in a roundabout way) to the death of
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her best friend's daughter who the mother was babysitting with her own children. The guilt and pain she feels from this death seem to segue directly into her being jailed later over an incident which happened when she was a school nurse. This section is her half of the book. Her husband's viewpoint makes up the other half. He is a farmer and is struggling to make their small farm profitable. The death and jailing have a profound affect on his ability to function and create a common point with his wife's best friend. A good book, well written and absorbing.
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LibraryThing member jerseyjane
I'm reading this now and about 1/2 way thru it. The main character Alice is an obnoxious drama queen, probably mentally ill. I can't stand her and I have to keep reading to find out what she does next.
LibraryThing member karieh
Good - but HOLY CRAP it's depressing.
LibraryThing member bpeters65
A story about how quickly a family can fall apart after tragedy. I mourned for this fictional family and found enlightenment in their self-discovery and strength.
LibraryThing member yourotherleft
The beginning of A Map of the World finds hapless housewife Alice Goodwin waking up on her Wisconsin farm for the last normal morning before tragedy strikes. Within the first few chapters, her neighbor and friend Theresa's daughter has wandered off to the farm's pond and drowns in the few minutes
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it takes Alice to hunt down a swimsuit and discover that one of her charges is missing. I thought this incident would be the crux of the book, but as it turns out, the drowning is just the tip of the tragic iceberg that strikes the Goodwin family that year and changes their lives forever. Admittedly, A Map of the World is a bleak book, however Hamilton is a wizard with words, bringing forth two equally compelling narrators in Alice and her husband Howard, expertly depicting the tumble-down farm and the daily struggle it takes to keep it going. A Map of the World is a dense and introspective account of a family temporarily torn asunder that explores big themes like guilt and forgiveness while at the same time contemplating human connections that are strikingly universal but too easily threaten to give way under pressure. A Map of the World takes a little extra time to dig into, but for readers who appreciate a good character study with a plot to back it up, it's definitely worth the effort.
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