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. Zee is the young protege of a famous psychotherapist, 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 mother Maureen, commits suicide.
Crossing a professional boundary by attending Lilly's funeral, on the way back Zee drops by her hometown. 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. She stays to 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 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, MA with its maritime history is an integral backdrop.
My one quip --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.
Condensed from my original review at luxuryreading.com
Enjoyed this book so much! Highly recommended!
For me, the most interesting parts of this books were the references to Hawthorne and Yeats. I also learned quite a bit about the devestating effects of Parkinson's disease. I didn't find the characters very engaging and I thought there were too many story lines. If you want to know more about Salem, MA and its maritime history, you will like this book. If you want a book that you will remember, look elsewhere.