Monday, April 25, 2011

The Map of True Places - Brunonia Barry

Title: The Map of True Places
Author: Brunonia Barry
Paperback: 403 pages (ARC version)
Publication date: May 2010
Publisher: Harper Collins/William Morrow
FTC: won a copy from publisher

I'll have to be honest.  I started this book way back last year and didn't get far into it and didn't finish it.  For some reason it just wasn't the book for me at the time.  So it's been sitting on my bookshelf with a bookmark in it for some time.  When I saw that the paperback edition (cover at the end of the post) was coming out AND Book Club Girl was hosting an author interview with her (listen here) that I could participate in, well I thought it was time to give it a second chance.  Man, I'm glad I did.

I became a fan of Brunonia Barry when I read her first novel The Lace Reader (my review).  Her books are so far all set in Salem, Massachussetts and incorporate the history, legends, and the town almost as a character.  The Lace Reader focused more on the witchy past of Salem while this book delves into the maritime and literary history.  Think of Salem back in the day, full of traders and fishermen...think of Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables.  So far, all of Brunonia Barry's novels makes me want to take a vacation to Salem and just savor all the history of the town.

Like The Lace Reader, this book centers on a main character as she comes to grips with her family and her past.  Here's the summary from the back of the book:

Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats—a talent that earned her the nickname Trouble. She's now a respected psychotherapist working with the world-famous Dr. Liz Mattei. She's also about to marry one of Boston's most eligible bachelors. But the suicide of Zee's patient Lilly Braedon throws Zee into emotional chaos and takes her back to places she though she'd left behind. 

What starts as a brief visit home to Salem after Lilly's funeral becomes the beginning of a larger journey for Zee. Her father, Finch, long ago diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, has been hiding how sick he really is. His longtime companion, Melville, has moved out, and it now falls to Zee to help her father through this difficult time. Their relationship, marked by half-truths and the untimely death of her mother, is strained and awkward. 

Overwhelmed by her new role, and uncertain about her future, Zee destroys the existing map of her life and begins a new journey, one that will take her not only into her future but into her past as well. Like the sailors of old Salem who navigated by looking at the stars, Zee has to learn to find her way through uncharted waters to the place she will ultimately call home.

I think what bogged me down last time I tried to read this book is that it starts of fairly bleak.  I mean, Zee is so apathetic about her upcoming marriage that it was a bit sad.  When you discover that her mother committed suicide and her father was closet homosexual who came out during her mother's mental breakdowns, well....yeah it was all so sad.  BUT....

Hang in there.  There is so much more to this novel.  Once Zee goes back home to care for her father who is suffering from Parkinson's, the story really picks up.  Zee wonders about the real cause of Lilly's suicide and IF it was really suicide.  We start meeting characters that I really adore.  I loved the literary inclusion of Finch, Zee's father, being a Hawthorne expert.  Melville, Finch's long time partner is one of my favorites.  He is such a sympathetic character and I just adored how he was a father to Zee and a partner to her father.  Zee really starts waking up as she delves into her past and what she wants from the future. 

There's so many great themes and ideas in this book.  Lilly and Zee's mother both had bipolar disorder and how Zee deals with it.  Finch is struggling with Parkinson's disease (Brunonia Barry mentions April is Parkinson's Awareness Month).  The literary aspects were also interesting.  Zee's mother was in the middle of writing a story incorporating an old maritime lore of sailor's wife and a widow's walk.  Finch's interest in the relationship between Hawthorne and Melville.  Finch also gives Zee's mother a book of Yeats poetry which ends up playing a part in the book.  And if you've read The Lace Reader, Ann Chase is a side character and Towner Whitney is mentioned, yay!

I'm not sure what made it all stick together for me and draw me in.  Perhaps it's Brunonia Barry's writing that makes the setting and people seem so real.  Whatever it is, about halfway through the book, I couldn't put it down and I stayed up way too late to finish the book. Are there serious and heart wrenching themes in this book?  Yes.  Did it end up being a downer?  No.  It was more of a story of healing and resolution.  Go read this book.

Here's the new paperback cover:
Also Reviewed By:

Peeking Between the Pages
Luxury Reading
Fashion Piranha
She is Too Fond of Books
S. Krishna's Books
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Capricious Reader
Devourer of Books
TLC Book Tours

The Book Lady's Blog (what inspired The Map of True Places)

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