Being a therapist would be a difficult job for anyone, but for Zee Finch, whose patient’s recent suicide eerily echoes that of her mother’s, it’s become haunting and nearly impossible. In Brunonia Barry’s The Map of True Places, Zee attempts to unravel the deeper truths about her patient, her mother, and herself.
It’s hard for me to categorize this novel: it’s a mystery, it’s literary fiction, it’s a thriller, it’s even a bit fantastical. I described the main plotline above, but there are sidelines dedicated to Zee’s parents’ relationship, her mother’s fairy tales, and Melville’s life. Unexpectedly, at least for me, was how much space in the book is dedicated to the hard realities of caring for an ailing parent. I think others in the same situation would appreciate the understanding portrait Barry paints here.
One of the parts I found most affirming was seeing Zee come into herself and discover what she really wants out of life. She’s a very well-realized character and I found myself identifying with her, even though my life has been happy and hers traumatic. She works to overcome the past and the present, and though it’s not all tied together with a neat little bow, it is realistic and kinda uplifting.
I also really liked how this book took place in the same version of Salem we were introduced to in The Lace Reader. Mentions of Towner and Rafferty, as well as appearances by Ann Chase, were delightful. By no means do you have to read The Lace Reader first, but it did enhance my enjoyment a bit (especially getting to know Ann better–she’s definitely one of my fave characters, and I hope Barry’s third book will be about her).
And it’s a good litmus test: if you liked The Lace Reader, it’s probably an indication that you’ll like The Map of True Places, too. It had a lot of the same themes: emotionally/mentally-scarred mothers, distant/absent fathers, a distinct New England feel, a family secret, even a kind of unreliable main character. While it’s true she does this really, really well, it would also be cool to see a major departure from this formula in her next novel.
I also noticed that Barry seems to delight in tricking you into thinking the male (romantic) leads may have done something “bad,” and then cooking up an explanation for it that lets them off the hook. I for one think it would make her books that much more complex and interesting if she let these guys actually DO what they were accused of, and still be accepted/loved by the female main characters. Otherwise, they seem a little too good to be true, honestly. That may be just me! (And her “gotcha!”-type endings may wear a little thin for some, though this one I saw coming.)
A strong sophomore offering from Ms. Barry!
I received this ARC from William Morrow through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. The Map of True Places comes out on May 4, 2010.
Bookwanderer Rating: Three and a half/four out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: Mayhem in Salem (it almost rhymes…)