Up front I will admit I have not read Brunonia Barry’s very popular novel The Lace Reader yet, so this novel was my first go with Barry’s writing. (I do own The Lace Reader and will get to it, likely, in the fall.) This book presented an interesting problem for me: it was highly readable and had enough compelling moments to keep me moving forward yet the overall work fell very flat for me mostly because of writing style and issues with, what I feel to be, poor editing. When I finished the novel I went in search of reviews, curious about what others are thinking about the story. I kept encountering phrases such as: “masterfully woven”; “all the elements of a great book club book”; “engaging storytelling”; “another big hit”. Clearly, according to the many gushing reviews I read, I had missed the boat of greatness with this novel. And yet…I don’t think I did.
I have an appreciation for several facets of The Map of True Places. I thought the characters of Zee, Finch and Melville to be well written and the relationship between Zee and her father, Finch, believable, particularly through the worsening of his Parkinson’s disease. The inclusion of historical details about the shipyards of Salem and the boat Friendship were very interesting too. The problems for me, as I have already mentioned, had mostly to do with editing. It seems to have been sloppily done. Pieces of writing are repeated, nearly word-for-word, only a couple of pages later giving the sense of being hit over the head with details so we don’t forget. Dabblings in the mystical arena along with the use of coincidence did not endear me to the novel.
Here is the book description from the publisher, William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins:
Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats—a talent that earned her the nickname Trouble. She’s now a respected psychotherapist working with the world-famous Dr. Liz Mattei. She’s also about to marry one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors. But the suicide of Zee’s patient Lilly Braedon throws Zee into emotional chaos and takes her back to places she though she’d left behind.
What starts as a brief visit home to Salem after Lilly’s funeral becomes the beginning of a larger journey for Zee. Her father, Finch, long ago diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, has been hiding how sick he really is. His longtime companion, Melville, has moved out, and it now falls to Zee to help her father through this difficult time. Their relationship, marked by half-truths and the untimely death of her mother, is strained and awkward.
Overwhelmed by her new role, and uncertain about her future, Zee destroys the existing map of her life and begins a new journey, one that will take her not only into her future but into her past as well. Like the sailors of old Salem who navigated by looking at the stars, Zee has to learn to find her way through uncharted waters to the place she will ultimately call home.
The book description offers readers a trifecta of intrigue, mystery and transformation. It is unfortunate The Map of True Places doesn’t deliver more resoundingly. While certainly quaint, this isn’t enough for me to feel rewarded or emotionally invested in Barry’s second novel.