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Brunonia Barry – The Map of True Places

May 3, 2010

45. The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry (2010)

Length: 403 pages

Genre: Literary Fiction

Started: 16 April 2010
Finished: 21 April 2010

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed Barry’s first novel, The Lace Reader – it accomplished the daunting task of living up to all of the hype I’d heard about it – so I was eager to read her sophomore attempt.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 22 March 2010.

If you don’t know who
you are, how can you ever
find your own way home?

Summary: Zee is a young woman whose life has always been defined by someone else. When she was a teenager, her increasingly unstable mother committed suicide, leaving Zee and her gay father to cope with the aftermath. Now, Zee is a therapist working in Boston, engaged to a handsome young man, and generally thinks of herself as well-adjusted. However, when one of Zee’s patients – a woman named Lilly who has some disquieting similarities to Zee’s mother – also commits suicide, it throws Zee into somewhat of a tailspin. She abandons her life in Boston and returns to the family home in Salem, ostensibly to help care for her father, who is suffering from rapidly-worsening Parkinson’s. But, in order to successfully choose her future, Zee must first look back at the choices that she has made – and that have been made for her – in her past.

Review: Brunonia Barry has done it again. The Map of True Places is a worthy successor to The Lace Reader, and fans of one are sure to like the other. All of the things I liked most about The Lace Reader – the expert characterization, the incredibly fine layering of themes and metaphors, the excellent evocation of setting, and the twists that make you want to immediately start re-reading from the beginning as soon as you close the book – all of these are present and accounted for in The Map of True Places. None of the Big Twists/Huge Unspeakably Bad Secrets are as Unspeakably Bad and Twisty as those from The Lace Reader, but I also didn’t see them coming ahead of time, and they absolutely surprised me enough to keep me reading well past when I had meant to put my book down and go make dinner.

Most of the time, Barry’s got a real ear for tone, and her depictions of characters and situations are frequently so detailed and true-to-life that they can be almost uncomfortable to read. For all of her finely-crafted layering of story, though, I thought the navigation metaphors were a little bit overworked, especially compared to how subtle she was about weaving in the rest of her themes. I also thought the plotting was a smidge uneven as well; the book’s a little meandering, which I didn’t mind – Zee was an interesting character to spend time with, even when not much was happening – but then the ending felt like it happened too quickly, and a little bit too neatly. Although I appreciate the effort it must have taken to have all of the various pieces fall together they way they did, I do wish things had been left just a tiny bit more ambiguous.

Although this book and The Lace Reader are not directly connected, and one is not required reading for the other, fans will be pleased to know that they are set in the same version of Salem. I was happy to see Anne Chase show up again with a few POV chapters of her own, Rafferty makes a brief cameo, and even Towner gets a name-check, which made me grin. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fans of The Lace Reader will obviously want to pick up this one as well; it’s just as good. If you haven’t read Barry’s first book, but like intelligent, multi-layered, character-driven fiction with an excellent sense of place and a sizeable dollop of family mystery, then you’ll probably get along with The Map of True Places just fine.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Brunonia Barry’s blog

Other Reviews: Devourer of Books
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: In the years when her middle name was Trouble, Zee had a habit of stealing boats.

Cover Thoughts: Love it. It makes me want to be back on the New England coast on a cool summer’s night, and I like the overlay of the old navigation chart against the stars.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 31: “The next day, when the nanny took the children to their lessons, Lilly’s feet took her outside, through the labyrinth of Marblehead streets, past the fading window boxes where the vinca and blue scaevola struggled against the August drought.” – periwinkle; a genus of flowering plants in the Goodenia family, called fan-flowers or half-flowers.
  • p. 288: ““It’s sad when Spica disappears below the horizon,” he said. “But she has her heliacal rising right around Halloween.”” – pertaining to or occurring near the sun, esp. applied to such risings and settings of a star as are most nearly coincident with those of the sun while yet visible.
  • p. 315: “With each step he took, the phosphorescence sparkled and glimmered its healing miracle around him, creating a Masaccio-like halo around him as he moved.” – the first great painter of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance
  • p. 356: “The storyteller then switched to describing the worn thole pins found in a stolen dory, which became part of the evidence that convicted the killer.” – a pin, or either of two pins, inserted into a gunwale to provide a fulcrum for an oar.

***All quotes come from an ARC and may not reflect the final published text.***

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2010 7:32 am

    I didn’t know she had already written another book! I haven’t managed to get around to picking up The Lace Reader but I really want to.

  2. May 3, 2010 8:42 am

    This sounds so good! I’ve had The Lace Reader for a while and obviously need to read it – that way I’ll know whether I should get this one or not.

    • May 8, 2010 9:03 am

      bermudaonion – Sounds like a plan… I always need to check myself before acquiring multiple books by an author (or in a series) before I’ve read the first one.

  3. May 3, 2010 11:13 am

    I like it when authors write books that are not sequels to what they’ve written previously, but take place in the same landscape. It’s neat to get a short, peripheral, outsider’s glance at someone who was a point-of-view character in a former book.

    • May 8, 2010 9:04 am

      Jenny – I know I’ve read other “same universe, different character” books before, but I’m not coming up with any off of the top of my head… Maybe Lois McMaster Bujold’s first two Chalion books.

  4. May 3, 2010 12:22 pm

    I liked Anne coming back, but Towner’s name check actually made me sort of roll my eyes. Of course, I really enjoyed this anyway.

    • May 8, 2010 9:05 am

      Jen – Oh, it made me roll my eyes too, but I grinned because it felt like I was “in the know” on a secret.

  5. May 3, 2010 11:21 pm

    Hmm, sounds like I need to check out Brunonia Barry. (And what a name!) I’m going to add The Lace Reader to the old list- I always have to start at the beginning. Thanks for this review!

    • May 8, 2010 9:30 am

      Omni – It’s the beginning in that it happens first, but it’s not as though the one gives spoilers for the other, or is really at all related.

  6. May 4, 2010 10:26 am

    I just received this book the other day. I might move it up on my TBR pile a little bit after reading your review, although I am debating whether I should go out and buy the Lace Reader and read it first.

    • May 8, 2010 9:31 am

      toothy – I don’t think you necessarily need to read them “in order”, since they’re really totally independent.

  7. May 4, 2010 3:03 pm

    This sounds awesome, I like that all the characters seem like they will be so unique.

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