Book Review: *The Map of True Places* by Brunonia Barry

  • The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (May 4, 2010)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061624780
  • 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.


    19 comments to Book Review: *The Map of True Places* by Brunonia Barry

    • I was not a huge fan of The Lace Reader — probably because I make lace and I didn’t buy most of the lacemaking and lace reading bits. Perhaps this one would suit me better? I like the private/public contrast.

    • I am really excited about reading this book, and from what you have to say about it, I won’t be disappointed! I am glad that you loved this one. I think I will be particularly interested in the portrayal of mental illness within the frame of the story. Thanks for a great review!!

    • I haven’t read my copy yet, but I will be soon.

    • I am really taken by the Hawthorne quote – how true it is! Wonderful review. I have not read Barry’s work yet, but am very much interested in The Map of True Places.

    • I listened to the audio version of The Lace Reader and really enjoyed it. I am looking forward to checking this one out as well. Great review!

    • Kathleen

      This one is definitely on my list but I want to read The Lace Reader first.

    • I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Lace Reader so I was thinking I jus might skip out on this one. But your review has definitely got me changing my mind.

    • Beth F – I know you didn’t care for The Lace Reader … this doesn’t have any hidden messages or “tricks”, it’s more of a straight mystery (or, just life!).

      zibilee – she dealt with the mental/physical illness with great sensitivity. Esp. the character w/Parkinson’s … very touching.

      Serena – I understand – so many books, so little time. I bumped it up because of the setting :)

      Kristi – the many references to Hawthorne (again, not so heavy as to detract from this novel), made me want to go back and re-read The Scarlet Letter

      April – ooh, I read the print edition; I imagine the audio of THE LACE READER had you on the edge of your seat, too.

      Kathleen – good idea, only because some of the same characters are mentioned (as minor asides). Not necessary, but the names/context will make sense if you read THE LACE READER first.

      Lisa – you’re not the only person I know who didn’t care for the “seeing” in the lace, or the resolution of the plot (the big reveal). There aren’t any tricks in MAP – parallels and convenient coincidences, yes, but no mind games.

    • I have The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places sitting on my TBR piles (and piles and piles and piles). I’ll have to push them up the list!

    • Meg

      Definitely sounds like something I would enjoy! I love when settings become characters in themselves; makes a book so much more dimensional and interesting to me. Great review!

    • Kay

      Dawn, thanks for reminding me that this book is already out. My book group read THE LACE READER last year or the year before (can’t remember). It was a pretty popular selection, albeit not the favorite of everyone. I’ll enjoy reminding the group that this new one is out for those who enjoyed the first. I really need to read this soon. Just need to find the time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • I enjoyed this one and agree that the mental/physical illness aspect was handled very well.

    • I loved The Lace Reader and have Map of True Places sitting in the TBR pile for review. You’ve really peaked my interest with the public/private faces and the issue of mental illness. I definitely will be bumping this one to the mini-TBR pile!! Thanks for a well thought out review!

    • WOW…sounds really good Dawn. I did like the Lace Reader. Thanks for the great review.

    • I have this one sitting by me right now… but it somehow got buried by some of the books I brought home from NY! I need to move it back up in the pile.

    • I’m wanting to read this one but I still need to get to the Lace Reader first. I have it sitting on my shelf begging to be read. Thanks for your great review.

    • Wow, you wrote a wonderful review for this book. I definitely want to read it now!

    • Trisha – I’ve stopped calling them “piles” of books; we’ve moved on to “walls”

      Meg – yes, there’s enough local reference to set the scene and be familiar to those who know the area, but not so much that it takes away from the story.

      Kay – It sounds like your book group found that the best discussions are those when not everyone loves the book

      Nise’ – Finch’s descent with Parkinson’s was very well written

      Jennifer – LOL! The mini-TBR pile :) Didn’t we used to call that the nightstand?!

      diane – I hope you enjoy MAP, too!

      softdrink – you’ll want to visit Salem after you read it.

      Ryan – they don’t have to be read in order (not a continuous story or the same main characters), but some characters are referred back to.

      Jennifer – please do! And let us know what you think of it.

    • This book sounds fantastic! I love the title and knowing that the book fits it perfectly makes me excited!

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