Several years ago I noticed a copy of Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World and stuffed it into my bulging bag to purchase. I recognized it as having been a big seller and remembered hearing of Hamilton as a wonderful literary writer. Then the book sat on my shelf until recently when I had time between review books to explore a little. I hadn't noticed it was also an Oprah pick or I might not have bought it to begin with. I haven't had much luck with her book club choices.
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.