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A Map of the World [Abridged, Audiobook] [Audio Cassette]

Jane Hamilton , Mary Beth Hurt , David Strathairn
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (345 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 1995
From the author of the widely acclaimed The Book of Ruth comes a harrowing, heartbreaking drama about a rural American family and a disastrous event that forever changes their lives.

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 of 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 Trade Paperback edition.

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From Amazon

Oprah Book Club® Selection, December 1999: In A Map of the World, appearance overwhelms reality and communal hysteria threatens common sense. Howard and Alice Goodheart, the couple at the center of Jane Hamilton's 1994 novel, have labored mightily to create a pastoral paradise in a Wisconsin subdivision. Their 400-acre dairy farm is the last in Prairie Center, and they're working flat out to raise their two young girls in a traditionally bucolic manner. Yet paradoxically, they strike their neighbors as unacceptably modern, and have been treated as interlopers since the day of their arrival. Howard, in love with his vocation, chooses not to believe that they've been frozen out. But Alice, flinty and quick to judge, finds things harder. And her job as school nurse doesn't work wonders for her reputation either. Happily, there's one exception to this epidemic of unfriendliness: their closest neighbors. Theresa and Dan, who also have two young daughters, function as a virtual lifeline for the embattled family.

But in June 1990, whatever idyll the Goodhearts have worked for comes to a permanent end. On a beautiful morning--marred by her 5-year-old's tantrum but still recuperable--Alice looks forward to taking her children and Theresa's youngest for a swim. Distracted for several minutes, she has no idea that the 2-year-old is no longer in the house:

Lizzy had run to the pond and splashed in. It had felt good on her hot feet and she kept running and then she was pedaling and pedaling. She tried to grab hold of the water, pawing for the metal bar, a ladder rung, her mother, but there was nothing. She clutched and flailed.... She sank. The trout that Howard had stocked in the pond swam along through the dark water. They noticed Lizzy out of the corner of their eyes. They had inherited the knowledge of that look, and they knew it by heart.
This is only the first of Alice's body blows. Next, she's questioned about one of her students, a memorably bad seed. On the verge of collapse, she cries out, "I hurt everybody!"--which will later be construed as a confession. Charged with sexual abuse and unable to come up with $100,000 in bail, she is forced to await trial in jail.

Narrated first by Alice, then Howard, and then Alice again, A Map of the World moves from intimate domesticity to courtroom drama with grace and subtlety. Hamilton wrote her book when accusations of abuse in schools and day care were peaking, yet this is not a modish work or an "issue novel" but a lasting creation of several complex lives. At one point, fed up with civil mechanisms, Alice tells her lawyer: "'Let Oprah be the judge.... Let Robbie and me, Mrs. Mackessy, Howard, Theresa, Dan, Mrs. Glevitch--let all of us come before Oprah. Let the studio audience decide. They're nice suburban woman, many of them, dressed for a lark. They have common sense and speak their minds.'" Apparently La Winfrey was listening, since she chose this beautifully observed novel for her book club. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Booksellers should send up three cheers of greeting for this haunting second novel by the author of The Book of Ruth , a beautifully developed and written story reminiscent of the work of Sue Miller and Jane Smiley. A piercing picture of domestic relationships under the pressure of calamitous circumstances, it poignantly addresses the capricious turns of fate and the unyielding grip of regret. Alice and Howard Goodwin and their two young daughters live on the last remaining dairy farm on the outskirts of Racine, Wisc. The farm is Howard's dream, realized with infusions of money from his disapproving mother; but Alice, who is disorganized, skittery and emotionally volatile, is constitutionally unsuited to be a farmer's wife. Her solace is her best friend Theresa, who also has two little girls for whom they alternate days of babysitting. One hot, dry June morning, in the middle of a soul-parching drought, Alice daydreams for a few, crucial minutes while the four girls play. She has rediscovered the map of the world that she made after her own mother died when she was eight; it was an attempt to imagine a place where she would always feel safe and secure. In that short time, one of Theresa's daughters drowns in the Goodwins' pond. As outsiders from the city, the Goodwins have never been accepted in their small community, which now closes forces against them. Still grieving and filled with remorse, Alice, a school nurse, is accused by an opportunistic mother of sexually molesting her son. She is arrested, and since Howard cannot raise bail, she remains in jail, where she suffers but also learns a great deal about human frailty and solidarity. Meanwhile, Howard and the girls undergo their own crucible of fire. Among Hamilton's gifts is a perfect ear for the interchanges of domestic life. The voices of Alice and Howard, who narrate the tale, have an elegiac, yet compelling tone as they look back on the events that swept them into a horrifying nightmare. In counterpoint to the shocks that transform their existence, the drudgery of the daily routine of farm life has rarely been conveyed with such fidelity. Fittingly, however, the death of their hopes as a family coincides with Howard's realization that the farmer's way of life is disappearing as well. The last third of the book, detailing Alice's incarceration among mainly black inmates, is astonishingly perceptive and credible, opening new dimensions in the narrative. One wants to read this powerful novel at one sitting, mesmerized by a story that has universal implications. BOMC and QPB selection.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Can't finish March 8 2004
By Kelly
Format:Paperback
I can't finish the book. There are parts of good writing by the author but the story is unnecessarily draggy and depressing. Alice always just look at the negative side of things, bemoaning her life and that people around her has robbed her of something. For example, she would notice how ugly a person is than anything else. I find her attitude to Nellie particularly selfish and rude. Her daughters are supposed to be difficult to handle, yet Nellie has helped her while she drowns herself in self-pity. I just feel that I have better way to spend my time than to read and feel annoyed and depressed about Alice's life.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Slow, but intricate July 1 2004
Format:Audio Cassette
This book was not one of my favorites. It was slow, and sometimes painful, to read. The characters, though, were beautfilly done, with both depth and vision, as well as the background. If you can push aside the difficult writing style, then try this book. Otherwise, skip it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult Read. Feb. 16 2004
Format:School & Library Binding
One moment of inattention, or was it pure and simply an accident that could have happened to anyone? Whatever it was, the lives of a community were changed and the dreams of two families went up in smoke. One of them found a way to continue their lives, but for the other family, they spiraled into a life of emotional poverty. The frightening lesson in this book is that it is hard to imagine that any of us would be immune to this disaster. It could probably happen to practically anyone, and just its possibility opens up the fact of our vulnerabilities. It made me think that I was on a precipice or a knife edge, facing disaster with just a misstep as I tried to go about my daily, routine tasks.
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Format:Paperback
I got so much from this book. It didn't really bring up thought but more of a feeling. I just felt when I read. It touched me deeply. The way the author could draw such a profound portrait of three people was just amazing! The story is deep and has lots of sadness. This is a hint just in case you might be looking for something light. There is a movie made of this book and it is also wonderful. I won't go into to much detail since there are already so many reviews. I can just say that looking deeper than just the sadness can be enlighting.
Lisa Nary
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5.0 out of 5 stars Transformation: When hope rises May 23 2001
Format:Paperback
I found this book nothing less than exquisite and have purchased it for my friends and family as a "must read". The writing is drenched in evocative descriptions that not only frame the characters and storylines but also stand alone as unusually creative and moving metaphors.
Ms. Hamilton has chosen subject matter that could easily be trite - the death of a child, sexual molestation. However, she awards each of her characters a dignity that allows them to transcend their situations and evoke the greatest compassion from the reader. We see that Alice has made mistakes, that she can be faulted. However her shortcomings are decidedly undeserving of her punishments (which are extreme, from the loss of a best friend's trust to criminal charges). What I believe the book makes obvious is that we are all susceptible to being blamed for hideous things due to unusual circumstances, even if we have lead our lives as decent people. We must look at the misfortunes of Alice with compassion, knowing that small mistakes can lead to dire consequences.
What I loved most about this book is its message of hope. Alice's family, friendships and career fall apart completely and her best friend loses a beloved child, yet they still are able to rebuild their lives. These women may not end up where they started, or where they anticipated, but ultimately the human spirit, love and family prevail.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Make it end! June 16 2009
Format:Paperback
The premise for this story was interesting and I truly gave it my all, but I couldn't finish this book. It was so slow and tedious. Character detail is good and important, but there is a line you can cross where you take it too far and I'm afraid for me, Jane Hamilton crossed that line with every paragraph.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Map of the World Feb. 13 2004
Format:Paperback
Although it has its good moments, the book, A Map of the World, is a difficult one to finish. In the first place, the book is unnecessarily long. Secondly, the characters are, without exception, unsympathetically drawn. The story is told in first person narration by the two main characters, Alice Goodwin and her husband, Howard.
Alice, the mother of two small children, works part time as a elementary school nurse. The book begins with Alice bitterly complaining about her children, her husband, her neighbors and her life in general. Alice was a motherless child who had a difficult relationship with her father. Within the first few chapters, the reader figures out that Alice is subconsciously hell-bent on causing problems for herself and her family.
While babysitting her best friend's two preschoolers, Alice leaves the room where the children are playing with Alice's own two small children and allows herself to become wrapped up in a daydream. By the time Alice returns, her friend's two year-old has wandered out the door and drowns in a pond. Alice descends into despair. She pushes her husband away and neglects her daughters.
Alice has always had a knack for alienating others. The death of the little girl turns into a catalyst for accusations that Alice has sexually molested several neghborhood children. Alice is arrested and is financially unable to make bail.
With Alice's arrest, the book makes a sudden shift to Howard's first person narration. In stark contrast to Alice, Howard is an uncomplaining, balanced and satisfied person who sees good in everything. However, he is completely unable to cope with changes brought about by his wife's imprisonment. He, too, begins making some very bad choices with devastating consequences.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars A Map of the World
I was extremely disappointed with my order with Amazon. It took almost 4 weeks for my book to arrive. It was ordered around Sept. 19 and was promised no later than Sept. Read more
Published on Oct. 16 2011 by Pauline Tschirhart
5.0 out of 5 stars Jane Hamilton has a gift
Hamilton's finely drawn characters are easy to understand and you cant help but feel sympathetic to each of them. Read more
Published on Dec 18 2007 by SK
3.0 out of 5 stars A good story, but way tooooo long
Jane Hamilton is an excellent writer, and she creates wonderful and plausible stories. But she suffers from logorrhea, an excess of verbiage. Read more
Published on Jan. 19 2004 by Peggy Vincent
3.0 out of 5 stars kinda boring
The two characters that I can't stand is Theresa and Howard. I mean, they should just get together and divorce their spouses or don't ever start in the first place. Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A Map of the World
An extremely moving and realistic story about Alice, a part-time homemaker, who has a bad turn of luck: under her supervision her best friend's 2 year old child drowns in the lake... Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2004 by smartnurse123
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragedy and banality lie side by side
This book is incredibly well-written and easy to read. One trauma leads to the next - and at the end of the book you are left to wonder - how much can one woman take? Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, but ultimately unfullfilling
Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World starts off with sharp observations of modern familial dynamics. The author, in her first couple of pages, evocates an unsettling vision of the... Read more
Published on Sept. 27 2003
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