In light of Herman Melville’s line from Moby Dick –“It is not down in any map; true places never are”–Brunonia Barry’s novel The Map of True Places is a wonderful attempt to capture the ephemeral, constantly changing, or ambiguous. The protagonist Zee is the young protege of famous psychotherapsit Liz Mattei, engaged to one of Beantown’s most eligible bachelors. All is well, on paper at least, until Lilly, a bipolar patient with eerie similarities to her own mother Maureen, commits suicide by jumping off the Tobin Bridge.
Crossing a professional boundary by attending Lilly’s funeral, Zee drops by her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts on her way back. She is shocked to find that her father, Finch, has thrown out his long-term partner Melville and that his Parkinson’s disease has progressed much more than he has let on. Zee suspends her life in Boston to stay and stabilize her father’s condition, changing the course of her own life along the way.
Barry manages to pull this story off well, despite its potentially melodramatic elements: a gay father who takes on a live-in lover after the mother’s suicide, guilt over the inability to save both mother and patient, and suspicions that the patient was stalked to her death. She masterfully weaves together the different threads connecting the back stories of Maureen, Finch, and Melville, Lilly’s descent into mania, with the present reality of Finch’s rapid deterioration into dementia. This intricate tapestry includes some romance and a thread of thriller towards the end. Zee’s Salem is full of developed, sympathetic characters; indeed, Salem (also the [amazonify]0061624780[/amazonify]setting of Barry’s first novel, The Lace Reader) with its maritime history is an integral backdrop, almost a character itself.
My one quip with The Map of True Places –common to other life-changing homecoming novels–is the lack of insight into Zee’s character between her leaving and returning to Salem. How did the troubled teenager of the prologue, who ‘borrows’ boats for joyrides after Maureen’s death grow into the young woman with everything going for her, but clueless about what she actually wants? There’s a vacuum there, which makes her ongoing adult life, and especially her fiance, seem like a straw man to knock down in favor of rediscovered priorities. Nonetheless, The Map of True Places was an enjoyable and ultimately uplifting read despite the heavy topics of mental illness, suicide, and progressive debilitating disease.
Please visit the official book site to learn more about The Map of True Places and Brunonia Barry.
This book was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.