State of Wisconsin: A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton
— Review by Teri at Sportochick’s Musings
One unremarkable June morning, Alice Goodwin is, as usual, trying to keep in check both her temper and her tendency to blame herself for her family’s shortcomings. When the Goodwins took over the last dairy farm in the small Midwestern town of Prairie Center, they envisioned their home a self-made paradise. But these days, as Alice is all too aware, her elder daughter Emma is prone to inexplicable fits of rage, her husband Howard distrusts her maternal competence, and Prairie Center’s tight-knit suburban community shows no signs of warming to “those hippies who think they can run a farm.”
A loner by nature, Alice is torn between a yearning for solitude coupled with a deep need to be at the center of a perfect family. On this particular day, Emma has started the morning with a violent tantrum, her little sister Claire is eating pennies, and it is Alice’s turn to watch her neighbor’s two small girls as well as her own. She absentmindedly steals a minute alone that quickly becomes ten: time enough for a devastating accident to occur. Her neighbor’s daughter Lizzy drowns in the farm’s pond, and Alice – whose own volatility and unmasked directness keep her on the outskirts of acceptance – becomes the perfect scapegoat. At the same time, a seemingly trivial incident from Alice’s past resurfaces and takes on gigantic proportions, leading the Goodwins far from Lizzy’s death into a maze of guilt and doubt culminating in a harrowing court trial and the family’s shattering downfall.
An outstanding depiction of dairy farm life in Wisconsin. I am from the state of Wisconsin and was curious of how this book could represent our fine dairy state. I can say that the descriptions and the feel of Howard’s daily farm life run true for dairy farmers. I was raised on a dairy farm and slipped back into my childhood where I milked cows by hand. I could smell the farm smells she was describing and I felt nostalgic for a time in the past that many people will never know or understand. To this day I have friends who are farmers who feel like Howard. Who yearn to smell the dirt, till the soil and have mannerisms much like him.
In my experience there is also a small mindedness in small towns as well and this story shows how this can effect and destroy families. During the course of this book the story brought up old feelings from the past and it was a hard read for me. I will say that it is well written and speaks truth of subjects most don’t talk about. It shows how some people who have been wronged have a huge capacity of forgiveness and that some can’t or never will forgive themselves or others.
This book is about being afraid to say the truth or not wanting to hear the truth. Even more it’s about standing behind someone even if you don’t know the truth. It shows that love can be taken for granted, felt but never shared and it can be renewed over time through the fires of life. That sometimes the people you fear the most are the ones with the saddest story.
Though there were times I felt it got a tad slow the overall book is very emotional and in the end I was still wondering “is this considered a happy ending” because all I could do was cry for Howard, Alice and Theresa.
I give this 4 STARS and recommend it for all readers of fiction.