Back-of-the-book blurb: Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats; she’s now a respected psychotherapist, engaged to 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 though 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. Their relationship, marked by half-truths and the untimely death of her mother, is strained and awkward.
Overwhelmed by her new role, and uncertain about her future, Zee destroys the existing map of her life and begins a new journey, one that will take her not only into her future but into her past as well.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ review:
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true”
from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (quoted in The Map of True Places)
“If you had done your calculations properly, there would be a moment when you found that the star you were looking for was exactly where it should be on the horizon. In that instant the universe made sense, and you knew that no matter what else happened in the world, the stars would always tell you where you were, and when they did, you would always be able to find your way home.”
from The Map of True Places
The protagonist in Brunonia Barry’s The Map of True Places is a young psychologist named Hepzibah “Zee” Finch. The book opens as Zee learns of the apparent suicide of one of her patients, a bipolar mother of two; Zee had connected with the patient – in fact, gone over a professional line in becoming emotionally involved in her story – because Zee’s own mother was bipolar. The parallels between Zee’s mother (Maureen Finch) and the patient (Lily Braedon) continue to appear throughout the novel.
The quote from The Scarlet Letter is significant in several ways – many of the characters have ‘public’ and ‘private’ faces (don’t we all!?); Barry weaves a story that allows the reader to peek behind these masks, sometimes even before the wearer sees inside.
The man who recalls the Hawthorne quote in The Map of True Placesis Zee’s father, a Hawthorne scholar known simply by his surname. Finch lives in Salem, the setting for much of the novel, and for years has had a monogamous relationship with a man he has lovingly nicknamed Melville. Don’t be put off by Barry’s use of literary names – they’re well-placed, establish a framework of relationships, and add to the public/private explorations.
Readers who enjoyed The Lace Reader will find some familiarity in The Map of True Places. A nod is given to parts of Boston, but the majority of the novel takes place in Salem; Barry revisits The Willows for skeeball and Chop Suey sandwiches and refers to previously introduced characters, such as Rafferty the cop and May Whitney’s rehab work on Yellow Dog Island. I was especially pleased to read references to two local bookshops – the Spirit of ’76 in Marblehead and Cornerstone Books in Salem. The place names add to the sense of Salem as a character in the novel; it’s impossible to separate this satisfying mystery from the city in which it is set.
The way the author discusses mental and physical illness is both insightful and sensitive. She explores the coping skills that the ill might use, the denial expressed by friends and family, and the ultimate acceptance and concessions that must be made when an illness takes over one’s mind or body. These sections were incredibly well-written, showing both Zee and the reader a bit of her private face.
Barry tells a tale that kept me turning pages to learn where the story was going and how the various plot lines would be resolved. The central plot line isn’t about Zee coming to terms with her patient’s suicide, the memories and unresolved questions from her own mother’s death, or her realization that her father’s Parkinson’s Disease has advanced into near-dementia. It really is about Zee finding her way “home” to a place within herself (her private face) that she’s willing to stand behind and show to the world (her public face). The title of this novel is perfect.