A Map of the World follows Alice Goodwin and her family as they struggle through the difficulties of living on the fringe of a small town, managing the last dairy farm in the midst of factories and automation, and fighting to restore Alice's name and freedom after she is accused of sexually assaulting the children in the local elementary school where she is a nurse. Alice Goodwin is the mother of two girls. She is also a dairy farmer's wife, and the school nurse in the small, and very secular town of Prairie Center, Wisconsin. Alice lives too much in her own head, and is constantly questioning her own behavior and thoughts, as they affect her family and friends. She is volatile and eccentric, and as such, socially unaccepted.
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The story opens on a typically frantic day on the dairy farm. The Goodwin's daughters, Emma and Claire, are testing their mother's limits yet again. Alice's husband Howard is up and working on the farm early, and Alice is left to care for her friend's young daughters. Distracted by her thoughts, and upset by the hectic state of her home and family, Alice doesn't notice that the little girl under her watch has wandered out to the lake on the property. Sadly, little Lizzy is discovered too late, and she eventually dies in the hospital.
This devastating loss pushes the Goodwin's even farther from acceptance within the community, and further fuels Alice's feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. Meanwhile, Alice is thrust into the center of a child molestation charge, and ends up in jail, while Howard is left to manage the girls, the farm, and his place in society without his wife, who is locked up in jail.
While Alice awaits trial, Howard scrambles to keep the farm up, and find a way to not only bail out his wife, but also pay for her defense, Howard ends up relying on the unlikely kindness of his neighbor, Teresa, whose daughter drowned in the farm's lake under Alice's watch. The two of them share a bond, a loneliness brought on by loss and withdrawal. This friendship and trust brings them to the brink of something they fear they won't be able to return from, and they eventually face the realization that they must not see each other anymore.
In the end, the only option Howard sees is to sell the farm and move out of town - exactly what Alice fears. While Alice is upset in the town jail, surrounded by young women who force her to reassess her own self, Howard sets up as much of a home as he can for the girls, in a cramped unit far away from the dairy farm.
As the trial approaches, the prosecution's case beings to unravel, and in the end, Alice is found not guilty, though her life, and that of her family, will forever be broken.
Best part of story, including ending:
This book was too much of a narrative, and far too wordy. While I appreciate a descriptive narrative, this was too much, and I often found myself skipping entire sentences to get to the point.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is the one in which Howard and Teresa accept their feelings for each other. Whether it be that they are naturally drawn to each other, or because of circumstances, you are puling for the two of them to finally have some sort of human companionship in the midst of ALice's jail time and Teresa's husband's complete withdrawal after the loss of Lizzie.
Opinion about the main character:
Alice Goodwin is a quirky character who has many eccentric and lovable, and even laughable traits. However, her inability to just take things, once in a while, for face value, and her constant need to question and over analyze, become trying.