Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Woman's Map of A Troubled World

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Woman's Map of A Troubled World

Article excerpt

A MAP OF THE WORLD By Jane Hamilton Doubleday 390 pp., $22 JANE HAMILTON, author of "The Book of Ruth," for which she received the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel, has written another engrossing, powerful book that should attract some much-deserved attention.

"A Map of the World" is not an easy or light read; indeed, it takes on some of the toughest issues of modern life. But the writer's skill in describing a community and a way of life, as well as her insight into the hearts of her characters, render this story difficult to forget.

The title refers to a map of the world that the main character labored over after the death of her mother. As a girl, she would sit before the map, imagining herself "in an ideal country, alone and at peace."

By tackling such major themes as motherhood, death, love, and child abuse, Hamilton draws us her own map of the world, one devoid of safe havens. What we are left with, however, is a better understanding of the strength of the human heart and the power to rise above calamity.

Alice and Howard Goodwin live and work with their two young daughters, Emma and Claire, on the last dairy farm in Prairie Center, Wis., on the outskirts of Racine. Most of the tightknit community keeps its distance from the family, regarding them as displaced urban hippies.

Although he suspects that the family farm will soon be obsolete, Howard is unable to imagine any other way of life. "I had wanted to spend my life caring for land, being a steward, and raising food.... Alice once said that most men must secretly want a barn, even city-dwelling men."

Alice, who strives to be a proper farm wife and live up to Howard's expectations, constantly fears that she doesn't have the right instincts to be a good mother. Sometimes, when she leaves the girls with her best friend, Theresa, she runs home, ignores the ruin of her housekeeping and Howard's calls for assistance, and dances with abandon to Hungarian music in her bedroom with the shades drawn. …

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