Summary and book reviews of A Map of The World by Jane Hamilton

A Map of The World

by Jane Hamilton

A Map of The World by Jane Hamilton X
A Map of The World by Jane Hamilton
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  • First Published:
    Dec 1999, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 1999, 352 pages

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Book Summary

A harrowing, heartbreaking drama about a rural American family and a disastrous event that forever changes their lives.

From the author of the widely acclaimed The Book of Ruth comes a harrowing, heartbreaking drama about a rural American family and a disastrous event that forever changes their lives.

The Goodwins, Howard, Alice, and their little girls, Emma and Claire, live on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. Although suspiciously regarded by their neighbors as "that hippie couple" because of their well-educated, urban background, Howard and Alice believe they have found a source of emotional strength in the farm, he tending the barn while Alice works as a nurse in the local elementary school.

But their peaceful life is shattered one day when a neighbor's two-year-old daughter drowns in the Goodwins' pond while under Alice's care. Tormented by the accident, Alice descends even further into darkness when she is accused of sexually abusing of a student at the elementary school. Soon, Alice is arrested, incarcerated, and as good as convicted in the eyes of a suspicious community. As a child, Alice designed her own map of the world to find her bearings. Now, as an adult, she must find her way again, through a maze of lies, doubt and ill will.

A vivid human drama of guilt and betrayal, A Map of the World chronicles the intricate geographies of the human heart and all its mysterious, uncharted terrain. The result is a piercing drama about family bonds and a disappearing rural American life.

This book was first published in 1994. It was republished in 1999 after being selected by Oprah Winfrey for her Book of the Month Club.

I used to think if you fell from grace it was more likely than not the result of one stupendous error, or else an unfortunate accident. I hadn't learned that it can happen so gradually you don't lose your stomach or hurt yourself in the landing. You don't necessarily sense the motion. I've found it takes at least two and generally three things to alter the course of a life: You slip around the truth once, and then again, and one more time, and there you are, feeling, for a moment, that it was sudden, your arrival at the bottom of the heap.

I opened my eyes on a Monday morning in June last summer and I heard, somewhere far off, a siren belting out calamity. It was the last time I would listen so simply to a sound that could mean both disaster and pursuit. Emma and Claire were asleep and safe in their beds, and my own heart seemed to be beating regularly. If the barn was out the window, clean, white, the grass cropped as close as a golf course, the large fan whirring ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

In the tradition of The Good Mother by Sue Miller and Before and After by Rosellen Brown, A Map of the World is the riveting story of how a single mistake can forever change the lives of everyone involved--in ways that are beyond imagining. One unremarkable June morning, Alice Goodwin is, as usual, trying to keep in check both her temper and her tendency to blame herself for her family's shortcomings. Six years ago, when the Goodwins took over the last dairy farm in the small Midwestern town of Prairie Center, they envisioned their home as a self-made paradise. But these days, as Alice is all too aware, her elder daughter Emma is prone to inexplicable fits of rage, her husband Howard distrusts her maternal ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times
Ms. Hamilton has done a nimble job of showing us how precarious the illusion of safety and security really is.

The New York Times
Ms. Hamilton has done a nimble job of showing us how precarious the illusion of safety and security really is.

Entertainment Weekly
Stunning prose and unforgettable characters . . . an enthralling tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying ways our lives can spin out of control. -

San Francisco Chronicle
Jane Hamilton has removed all doubts that she belongs among the major writers of our time.

The Washington Post
Hamilton's chillingly accurate prose keeps her fine novel buoyant. She is superb in her observation of the natural world and in her examination of psychological nuance.

Newsweek
It takes a writer of rare power and discipline to carry off an achievement like A Map of the World. Hamilton proves here that she is one of the best.

Reader Reviews

Darcy

Surprisingly uplifting
I nearly didn't read this book due to the summaries that called it "harrowing" and "dark" which are book types I tend to avoid. I am so glad I gave it a chance because it absolutely moved me. I felt challenged to think in a ...   Read More
Rosemary

One long Summer
The story was so real that it kept you reading to find out what happens next. The story was a sad one to read, but the people in the story gave life to the everyday happenings in small town neighborhoods.
Cassie

This book is a work of art. It was very enjoyable to read and I often couldn't put it down. Hamilton is an amazing writer.
Peter D. Haight

I've only just started this book; however, I can tell that like any exceptional art it is "a spiritual message among people".

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