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In the typical Urquhart mold, A Map of Glass is a novel about the past, the land, and art, subjects found in many of her previous novels. A young artist, Jerome, is alone on Timber Island to take photos of temporary art creations, or "absences," he has dug in the snow. While there, he finds the body of Andrew Woodman, an Alzheimer's sufferer, frozen in the ice of the river. Later, an older woman, Sylvia, searches out Jerome and his girlfriend in Toronto. Slightly autistic, she has fled her doctor husband in rural eastern Ontario because she wants to talk to Jerome about Andrew, her lover. The three sections of the book are intelligently constructed, with the two contemporary sections framing the central section, which recounts the history of the Woodman family, 19th-century shipbuilders and hotelkeepers on Lake Ontario.
Urquhart's writing is extremely resonant and always echoes her larger themes: "How wonderful the snow was; every change of direction, each whim, even the compulsion of hunger was marked on its surface, like memory, for a brief season." Her writing is also highly cerebral--little happens in this novel but there is an enormous quantity of thoughtful reflection. The depiction of the Woodman past, with its near-mythical characters and its grand hotel invaded by sand, is so deeply realized that the present feels amorphous in contrast, its characters infused with the ambiguity of modernism. In the end, however, Urquhart shows how this makes perfect sense for, with profound subtlety, she raises a startling question: In the face of shocking change--in landscapes, in memories that fade to nothing, even in the complete dissolution of the human personality in Alzheimer's--what can still be called reality? Urquhart is a subtle master at work. --Mark Frutkin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Starred Review. Urquhart's passion for the past (The Stone Carvers) and the land (The Underpainters, winner of the Governor General's Award in Canada) are at full poetic play in this intricate story of love, loss and memory. Set in present-day Toronto and in the 19th-century world of rural Ontario timber barons, it opens with the wintry death of Alzheimer's sufferer Andrew, whose body, borne by an ice floe, runs aground on the small Lake Ontario island where artist Jerome McNaughton is seeking inspiration. The story steps back a century, to when Andrew's ancestors, owners of the same island, razed forests to build ships, then it jumps forward a year from the opening scene of Andrew's death, to when Sylvia, Andrew's married lover of 20 years, sets out to meet with Jerome, who discovered Andrew's body, and, through Jerome, to reconnect one last time with Andrew. Meanwhile, Jerome, the relationship-shy adult child of an abusive, alcoholic father, is slowly coming to trust that girlfriend Mira's love for him is real. Urquhart reveals all of their haunted personal histories in the lyrical first and third parts of the novel. But it's in the compact family-saga middle, where a slew of Andrew's memorable forebears take the stage, that this novel's luminous heart truly lies. (Mar.)
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