sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

September 18, 2011

into the stacks: the map of true places
posted by soe 2:40 am

Another book down in an effort to catch up reviews:

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

From the jacket: “Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats…. She’s now a respected psychotherapist … 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 thought 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.”

My take: When Bridget finished reading this book, she was kind enough to send it to me after I expressed interest in it, having enjoyed Barry’s first novel, The Lace Reader.

The two books share a number of similar traits — the setting of Salem, Mass; the use of flashbacks as a narrative device; a female protagonist forced to return home due to a family crisis; a sympathetic male lead; an abusive character; and an interest in mental illness.

The Map of True Places revisits Salem in a time period not long after the end of the previous work and even resurrects some of the characters from it, but it is not a sequel and can be read comfortably without having encountered the other novel.

We first meet Zee, a Boston psychiatrist, immediately after the suicide of one of her patients. Because this patient had exhibited symptoms that reminded Zee of her mother — who had killed herself when Zee was a girl — Lilly’s suicide hits Zee particularly hard. Already under stress from wedding planning gone awry, Zee follows up the emotional funeral by finding her Parkinson-ridden father having a delusional episode and her step-father (his caregiver) no longer living at home.

So Zee takes a leave of absence from work to move home to Salem and take care of her dad, whose illness has taken a turn toward Alzheimer’s. She tries to figure out a way to reunite her father and step-father, who have argued over something they both refuse to divulge. She meets Hawk, a sailor/navigator who moonlights as a carpenter, who builds Finch some railings for around the house. And she tries to finally come to terms with her mother’s mental illness and suicide — and the historic love story she was obsessing over at the time of her death.

If you have read The Lace Reader, then you will be unsurprised by the direction this story takes. It feels heavy handed, relying on coincidence rather than magical realism to get you over some gaps in reality. Because of that, it may be that even without having read Barry’s previous work, you’ll suss out where this book is going before it gets there.

Nonetheless, it is a gripping and tense page-turner, and while you may sometimes need to put the book down in order to leave Zee in a safe place while you tend to more mundane aspects of your life, you will pick it up again as soon as you can to serve as a witness to her journey into the darkness of the unknown and back again.

Pages: 403

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