I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised with A Map of the World. I hesitated when I picked it off of the library shelf. I wasn't exactly crazy about The Book of Ruth, another of Jane Hamilton's novels. While reading Ruth, I wasn't sure whether I should laugh or cry. I can say that A Map of the World is very different than Ruth and a much better book.
Howard and Alice Goodwin are farmers in newly-suburban Prairie Center, Wisconsin. They have two young daughters named Emma and Claire. As the community grows, their dairy farm becomes somewhat of an outcast novelty, and the Goodwin's appear as hippie relics to this newly developed town.
One morning, it is Alice's turn to watch her best friend's daughters along with her own kids. While Alice is upstairs, her friend's daughter drowns in the farm pond.
Alice then plunges into a vacuum of guilt and self-blame. She can no longer function on her own or take care of her daughters. With her husband's help, she begins moving through the daily routine in a gray fog. She attempts to return to her nursing duties at the local elementary school.
When Alice returns to school, a troubled student accuses her of a terrible crime. Alice has no more time to mourn, as she is arrested and detained in the county jail.
From this point on, we follow the Goodwin family as they cope with the false charges. We see the community accept those charges as truth and outcast the crazy-farming Goodwins even further.
I found A Map of the World to be hauntingly-true and scary. In today's society, it is very easy to be falsely accused of a crime, especially those in the public eye. Your life can be ruined, as people automatically assume you are guilty.
As I previously mentioned, I wasn't exactly thrilled with another of Ms. Hamilton's works titled The Book of Ruth. The main character was so odd and sad, I wondered if this was some underlying dark humor in there. I was confused as to how I was supposed to react to the story.
However, A Map of the World is entirely different and worth a look. The characters felt more real, and I knew exactly how I was supposed to react to their story. No confusion here.
This book would make a good gift to a friend who won't mind the dark subject matter. You should read A Map of the World on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you have some extra time. It is so good you won't want to put it down.