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Monday, September 20, 2010

Truly Rewarding

The Map of True Places
Brunonia Barry

William Morrow, 2010

Zee Finch spent her adolescence perfecting the art of boat stealing. It wasn’t so much that she needed a boat as it was the challenge of not getting caught. In most cases, she just took the boat from one marina and then returned it to another, which caused the owners much puzzlement and Zee much amusement. Zee is now a respected psychotherapist and understands why she felt the need for attention at that time in her life. It isn’t until she starts treating a young mother who has suicidal tendencies that Zee realizes she has her own issues regarding her mother’s suicide when Zee was 13 years old. She knows she should distance herself from treating this patient, but she feels she can make a difference and perhaps save other children from the pain and grief she herself felt growing up without a mother. Unfortunately, Zee’s patient ultimately dies, throwing Zee into emotional chaos and disrupting her work and her life.

What starts as a brief visit home to Salem after Lilly's funeral becomes the beginning of a larger journey for Zee. She takes a leave of absence from her work, not knowing if she can ever help anyone again. She also puts her wedding on hold, not sure if she truly wants to marry her fiancĂ©. In addition, her father, Finch, long ago diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, has been hiding how sick he really is. Zee is needed to help him through this difficult time. Their relationship, marked by half-truths and the untimely death of her mother, is strained and awkward. Zee doesn’t know how to help her father, how to help herself, or even how to continue her work as a therapist when she feels so lost. Ultimately, Zee must learn how to follow her own heart in order to help those around her find theirs.

It’s not often that a character comes to life in a novel the way Zee does in this one. Named for a character in a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, Hephzibah, or Zee for short, is totally confused after her patient dies and naturally wants to fix things – for the family left behind, for her father, for her father’s longtime companion. For everyone except herself, who probably needs the most fixing of them all. I think most women can identify with Zee’s attempts to “fix” everyone around her while neglecting her own needs – even to the extent that she is stuck in a seemingly loveless relationship that she doesn’t know how to end. In fact, most characters in the book are real and fully developed, full of life and quirks and faults and motivations that are surprising and understandable at the same time. Some critics have found fault with an elaborate plot with a secondary twist at the end, but I found the plot to be as complex and interesting as the characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it highly.


Other novels by this author:
The Lace Reader (2006)

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Sabbathday River by Jean Korelitz (1999)
Jogging outside the town of Goddard, New Hampshire, Naomi Roth finds the body of a newborn baby girl floating face down in the Sabbathday River. News of the dead child spreads quickly through Goddard, and Naomi is shocked when the community fingers Heather Pratt, a young single mother notorious for her affair with a married man, as the prime suspect. Naomi engages the help of Judith Friedman, a lawyer, to defend the young woman. But when the truth at the heart of this astonishing case - and the body of a second baby - comes to light, it is Naomi who must confront how little she has understood her town, her friend, and herself.

Jackalope Dreams by Mary Clearman Blew (2008)
The departed men in her life still have plenty to say to Corey. Her father, a legendary rodeo cowboy who punctuated his lifelong pronouncements with a bullet to his head, may be the loudest. The story of the newly orphaned, spinsterish Corey is a sometimes comical, sometimes poignant tale of coming-of-age a little late. As she tries to recapture an old dream of becoming a painter, Corey finds herself figuring in other dramas in lives already as lost as her own.

Mirror Lake by Thomas Christopher Greene (2003)
Hoping to escape painful memories about his deceased father, Nathan Carter journeys to rural Vermont, where bad weather prompts his meeting and subsequent friendship with the aging Wallace Fiske, a social outcast with his own difficult past

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