Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Map of the World

Yesterday I finished reading A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton. It was art. I call it "art" because it elicited in me a powerful emotion.

I intensely disliked the protagonist from the moment I opened the book. The first chapter finds her petulant, lazy, volatile, thoughtless, and a blurter. Depressed? Hard to tell. She's all over the place. She would certainly be tiresome to befriend, and with good reason: she seems unwilling to do anything other than daydream and dance. While sitting for her only friend's children, this daydreaming costs her enough time for the neighbors' two-year-old to leave the house and drown in the farm's pond.

With each page, I became more disgusted with this woman. But I became hooked, and I couldn't wait to find out what other careless things she would do. How badly can things go south? Pretty badly... and pretty fast.

The writing is exactly like Alice: just when you think you know what's going to happen... whoosh! Off it goes in another direction. We hear from her husband as well, and he's got his own battles. Hamilton even pulled an Arthur Miller and went with the last name of "Goodheart" for this family. I particularly liked the book's structure. Reading more than one point of view is usually fun.

By the end, some of my thoughts about Alice had changed: I still found her tiresome, but I realized that everyone goes through moments in which they lose themselves. I can't say I identified with her particular moments, though (thankfully!)

I liked the book, but I was disappointed with the ending. I don't want to call it a morality tale (because it isn't), but I don't know what else to call it. I'd go with "parable" but the book is long. I'll choose "existential novel", but it's more than that -- there is at least some meaning in Alice's world. If you read this book, please let me know what you think...

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