Map of the World (Hamilton)

The Map of the World
Jane Hamilton, 1994
Knopf Doubleday
390 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385720106

Summary
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 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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—July 13, 1957
Reared—Oak Park, Illinois, USA
Education—B.B., Carleton College
Awards—Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, 1988
Currently—lives in Rochester, Wisconsin


Her first published works were short stories, "My Own Earth" and "Aunt Marj's Happy Ending", both published in Harper's Magazine in 1983. "Aunt Marj's Happy Ending" later appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1984.

Her first novel, The Book of Ruth, was published in 1988 and won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, Great Lakes College Association New Writers Award, and the Wisconsin Library Association Banta Book Award in 1989. The Book of Ruth was an Oprah's Book Club selection in 1996, and it was the basis for a 2004 television film of the same title.

In 1994, she published A Map of the World, which was adapted for a film in 1999 and, the same year, was also an Oprah's Book Club selection. Her third novel, The Short History of a Prince, published in 1998, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998. This book was also shortlisted for the 1999 Orange Prize. In 2000, Hamilton was named a Notable Wisconsin Author by the Wisconsin Library Association.

All of her books are set, at least in part, in Wisconsin.

In an interview with the Journal Times in Racine, Wisconsin, in November 2006, Hamilton talked about her early inspiration for writing novels. As a student at Carleton College, she overheard a professor say she would write a novel one day. Hamilton had written only two short stories for the professor's class. Overhearing the conversation gave her confidence. "It had a lot more potency, the fact that I overheard it, rather than his telling me directly," she said. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
(Some older books have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. Check Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

This new novel by Jane Hamilton aspires to combine a melodramatic soap-opera plot with highly tuned literary writing.... The results are something of a mixed bag: bizarrely clumsy and contrived scenes combined with highly moving moments of exceptional emotional clarity, and a motley cast of characters, ranging from the stereotyped to the dexterously well drawn.... These difficulties are, to some degree, offset by the strengths of Ms. Hamilton's writing: her eye for the emotional detail, her expert manipulation of point of view, her ability to show us Alice's fears and delusions, her need for penance and her yearning for redemption."
Michiko Kakutani - The New York Times



Discussion Questions
1. In the opening pages of the novel, Alice says about her situation, "Now, in my more charitable moods, I wonder if our hardworking community members punished us for something as intangible as whimsy. We would not have felt eccentric in a northern city, but in Prairie Center we were perhaps outside the bounds of the collective imagination." (p. 4) How does the idea of alienation figure into the novel? Why do Dan and Theresa belong to Prairie Center? Does Howard belong? Feeling that she doesn't belong, could Alice have done anything to make herself less vulnerable to public censure?

2. Compare the different ways the characters grieve: Are there parallels in the husbandwife relationships within the couples—Alice and Howard, Theresa and Dan—and how each spouse expresses, or fails to express, his or her own grief? Do the characters' respective genders play a role in the way they deal with grief? What role does grief play in Howard's relationship with Theresa?

3. What is the function of Howard's narration? Does his perspective change your feelings about Alice and what happens to her? Is it clear why he doubts her?

4. Does Alice's sense of her own inadequacy contribute to how she is viewed by the people of Prairie Center? Does it contribute to Howard's feelings towards her?

5. At the outset of the novel, Alice says, "I had always suspected that Howard was able to slip into a phone booth, shed his rubber overalls right down to a blue body suit, and then take off into the sky, scooping up the children with one strong arm.... He has always been capable." (p. 9) What are some of Howard and Alice's respective strengths and weaknesses? Is eitherone stronger than the other in any way?

6. At the point of the novel when Alice is arrested, she is still completely overwhelmed and incapacitated by Lizzy's death and her role in it. How do the accusations against Alice and her time in prison change her and help her to deal with what happened to Lizzy?

7. What is revealed about Alice through her interaction with other prisoners? Does her sense of belonging shift while in prison? What new perspectives does she gain?

8. While in the jail hospital, Alice reflects on her marriage, "Lying in the hospital bed I thought to myself that my passion for Howard had soon been replaced by something that was stronger than respect, or habit, or maybe even need.... "I wasn't certain the group of feelings wouldn't cancel each other out, if any of them could possibly be powerful enough to carry me along by his side, shoulder to shoulder." (p. 298) What binds Alice and Howard? Do the events of the novel change the essence of those ties?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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