Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Map of True Places, by Brunonia Barry

Zee (short for Hepzibah) Finch is a successful psychotherapist in Boston, preparing to marry a very eligible bachelor she was fixed up with by her mentor, Dr. Liz Mattei. But then a patient commits suicide, shaking Zee badly (the similarities with her mother's suicide many years earlier contribute to her debilitating sense of responsibility for the suicide). She attends the funeral, rationalizing that going to Lynn will also allow her to stop in Salem and check in on her father, who has Parkinson's.

When she arrives in Salem, she finds things a mess. Her father has slipped into a delusion that he is Nathaniel Hawthorne and is selling his former life partner's belongings out the window of his home (which he believes is a "cent-shop"). Zee feels compelled to stay, first until she can convince the erstwhile partner Melville to return and then, when that doesn't work out, until she can make a workable plan for her father. The bulk of the book is the story of her summer in Salem, with a rapidly deteriorating father, sad memories of her mother, a stalker who is the dead patient's former lover, and a variety of other complications.

It is sometimes hard to believe that Zee is a therapist--her insight into her self and others does not appear to be keen. However, late in the story, she recognizes that her mother and patient's greatest similarity was that they lied to her and that "The lies or stories that Maureen and Lilly told were not lies they were telling Zee, they were the mythology they were creating for themselves. When they were no longer able to believe their own fairy tales, they lost all hope." This insight helps her find some peace--but Barry is not going to let her off that easily. There will be a violent climax.

At heart, Barry is a romantic, and she tacks on a prologue that wraps up Zee's story with happy ribbons. For me, it wasn't very believable--perhaps an ending that had Zee more fully unraveling her own mythology might have been just as happy and not so saccharine. Still, the book is an enjoyable weekend read.

Favorite passage:
Zee hated tunnels--the darkness, the damp, the dripping from overhead, where she imagined he weight of water already pushing through the cracks, finding any weak spot and working its way through.

(Exactly how I feel about tunnels!)

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