Friday, November 02, 2007
Without a Map
Hall, Meredith. Without a Map: A Memoir. A review book (nonfiction) from Anna, this one sat around for a long time, buried under the various stacks. Hall's story is one of lost and found. All that she lost as a pregnant teenager in the 1960's, and all that she found as she gradually sorted out her life.
Hall writes beautifully and tells a tale that rarely happens in today's society. After getting pregnant at 16, she allowed her baby to be given away, and was cast out by her family. Her story is a series of memories (essays?) and moves not in chronological time, but back and forth through the years as she gathers her strength and her forgiveness.
I remember only two girls who got pregnant when I was in high school (and there were over 800 in my graduating class). I remember because the school allowed them to attend for only a short time before they had to go somewhere else to complete school. Where? I haven't thought about this in years, but remember being stunned that the girls 1) got pregnant and 2) were not allowed to attend school. There were probably a few other girls in the same situation, but at the time, teenage pregnancy was kept secretive. Even if parents were supportive, and Hall's were certainly not, there was a huge stigma and an attempt to keep things quiet.
Hall begins her story:
Even now, I talk too much and too loud, claiming ground, afraid that I will disappear from this life, too, from this time of being mother and teacher and friend. That It--everything I care about, that I believe in, that defines and reassures me-- will be wrenched from me again.
In her community, she says, everyone knew about husbands who cheated on their wives, parents who abused their children, men and women who were lazy and irresponsible and slovenly. All of these individuals were tolerated, but when she was 16, Hall found that family, church, and school all turned their backs on her. All of the people who had embraced her, who had praised and cared for her as a child shunned her.
Hall's family, her parents were divorced and her father had remarried at the time of her pregnancy, was dysfunctional. At the time, however, she didn't realize this, and their treatment came as a shock, a disillusionment, and an isolation almost overwhelming for a teenage girl.
In this memoir, Hall relates the journey through those years and the struggle to become a person in her own right, to regain a sense of worth, to overcome her grief. In her late 30's, Hall decides to go to college, and she graduates from Bowdoin College. She currently teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire.
Her story is one of attempting to understand the events that led from 1965 to the present. Without a Map is beautifully written and introspective. It is full of blame and redemption, penance and, finally, safe harbor. While I found the first half of the book very, very good, I think it went on too long and became repetitive. Her descriptions of the 1960's and 1970's are accurate and interesting, and I admire Hall's persistence in overcoming the damage incurred, but think the book would have been better served with some judicious editing. And frankly, although I can admire Hall's willingness to take in and care for her aged and ill parents (first her mother and later, her father), it is much more than I could have mustered for people who treated her so badly.
Nonfiction. Memoir. 2007. 220 pages.