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A Map of the World (1994)

by Jane Hamilton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,288582,260 (3.55)1 / 58
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. From the Trade Paperback edition.… (more)
  1. 21
    While I Was Gone by Sue Miller (Severn)
    Severn: While I was Gone shares similar thematic elements, and a similar narrative, to A Map of the World, and comes highly recommended.
  2. 00
    The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (TheFlamingoReads)
    TheFlamingoReads: A melancholy story of how people deal with the death of a child.
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Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
A hard book to get into. The interior of the main character is very dense.
One unremarkable June morning, Alice Goodwin is, as usual, trying to keep in check both her temper and her tendency to blame herself for her family's shortcomings. When the Goodwins took over the last dairy farm in the small Midwestern town of Prairie Center, they envisioned their home a self-made paradise. But these days, as Alice is all too aware, her elder daughter Emma is prone to inexplicable fits of rage, her husband Howard distrusts her maternal competence, and Prairie Center's tight-knit suburban community shows no signs of warming to "those hippies who think they can run a farm."

A loner by nature, Alice is torn between a yearning for solitude coupled with a deep need to be at the center of a perfect family. On this particular day, Emma has started the morning with a violent tantrum, her little sister Claire is eating pennies, and it is Alice's turn to watch her neighbor's two small girls as well as her own. She absentmindedly steals a minute alone that quickly becomes ten: time enough for a devastating accident to occur. Her neighbor's daughter Lizzy drowns in the farm's pond, and Alice - whose own volatility and unmasked directness keep her on the outskirts of acceptance - becomes the perfect scapegoat. At the same time, a seemingly trivial incident from Alice's past resurfaces and takes on gigantic proportions, leading the Goodwins far from Lizzy's death into a maze of guilt and doubt culminating in a harrowing court trial and the family's shattering downfall. (less) ( )
  CarolBurrows | Jun 7, 2021 |
Alice, the central character in Jane Hamilton's great 1994 novel “A Map of the World,” takes a one-two punch that could knock any of us flat, if not out cold. First this school nurse and wife of a Wisconsin dairy farmer is still looking for her swimsuit when the two-year-old daughter of Teresa, her best friend, drowns in the farm pond. Numb with grief and guilt, Alice is then arrested, charged with sexual molestation of a boy in her school. She's jailed for months, while virtually the entire community thinks the very worst of her.

Most of the story is told from Alice's point of view, but in the middle third of the novel Hamilton gives us the perspective of Howard, her silent, handsome husband, for whom a dairy farm is a dream come true. Yet a lawyer, not to mention bail, costs money.

A third main character is Teresa, a devout Catholic woman who despite her daughter's death, perhaps because of Alice's carelessness, cannot turn against her friend. At least not until she spends a night in Howard's arms, albeit the two of them consumed more with grief than passion. Still she and Howard now have their own reason for feeling guilt.

Alice is clearly not guilty of the criminal charges against her, yet her trial proves dramatic anyway, mainly because we see it through her eyes and can read her compassionate thoughts about not just those who testify against her but also about those women with whom she lived with so long in jail.

As for the book's title, it refers to a map of an ideal country in an ideal world that Alice had drawn when she was a girl. She finds the map, in fact, while she is looking for that elusive swimsuit, and the image pops up here and there throughout the novel. Alice's own story shows us that such a perfect world is impossible, yet by the end we see that the only chance we have is for the people of our own world to accept, forgive and even love one another. The story is really all about grace. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jul 24, 2020 |
This was a difficult story to read. The story is pure tragedy and down right painful at times to wade through. This is an Oprah book, and true to form, it is a tale of insurmountable hardship and pain. The story also shows how quickly life can unravel and change. I am not passing this in because, while well written, it is too much of a downer. ( )
  melanieklo | Jul 25, 2018 |
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. ( )
  suequeblue | Jan 22, 2018 |
Well written novel about how life has a way of crumbling out from under your feet without much, if any, warning. ( )
1 vote JBarringer | Dec 30, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jane Hamiltonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mons, AnnetTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Steven Shahan with love and thanks. And for Elizabeth Weinstein also with love, and with thanks in each day all the way back to B-34.
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I used to think if you fell from grace it was more likely than not the result of one stupendous error, or else an unfortunate accident.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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. From the Trade Paperback edition.

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