The Map of True Places
By Brunonia Barry
407 pages. William Morrow. $25.99
published May 1, 2010
Fans of Brunonia Barry will enjoy her second novel, The Map of True Places. Set in Massachusetts and continuing with the theme of motherless daughters with tragic yet magical and mysterious pasts that play heavily into who they are as adults, Barry's protagonists in both of her books have more in common than the fact that they call everyone in their families by their first names instead of the usual familiar monikers. An enchanting tale though not written in the tightest prose; with an irksome habit of repeating the same information in the span of a couple of paragraphs (among others throughout the book, the line: "The dory was later discovered on the Miseries, oarlocks worn down to bare bone" was repeated almost verbatim from three paragraphs before), and spots at the beginning where the reader is left so in the dark about what is going on that it's tempting to skip paragraphs. While sometimes dumbing down the reader with unnecessary plot or character reminders, the author contrasts that by giving those who know their history (i.e. The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Hawthorne history, etc.) subtle lines and interwoven plot details that perhaps allow them to enjoy the book that much more than their counterparts. Though nothing is lost if one does not catch these historical nuances because, as always, Barry manages to use the more pivotal details teach us all some nuggets about the past that are both interesting and intelligent. Among other things, Barry has an uncanny ability to write stories that balance on the threshold of reality and fantasy, while mixing together a delightful amount of history and profound musings that keep the reader wanting more.
When we meet Zee Finch she is working as a psychotherapist in a prominent office in Boston. Lilly Braedon enters her life and won't let go, not even after she has committed suicide on a day that changes Zee's life forever. Lilly is a catalyst for many turning points throughout this novel, and she perhaps sums up the theme of this work in a statement on page 49, "We think we're free... but we're not. We're the product of every association we've ever made, and sometimes of ones we inherited from people we never even knew." Barry continues to prove this statement in her work as Zee returns to Salem, her home town, after Lilly's funeral to care for her ailing father. It is here that the story really begins to take flight as Zee is confronted with her ghosts and battles them. Characters from The Lace Reader (Barry's debut novel) reprise their roles as Barry fleshes out the story by building the plot and working the town into the tale in the way that is becoming her trademark. Another signature Barry move, interweaving a story within the story, creates more tension and mystery. In this novel, the inner story is as much of a treat as the main plot. It is also a delicious means of foreshadowing towards the end, answering questions that linger throughout the novel. Love, acceptance, tragedy, and renewal all abound in this story that will keep you turning pages until the very end.
Rating: Three and a Half Stars