Guest Review: Without a Map by Meredith Hall

Meredith Hall’s “Without a Map” is a memoir about the life of a woman who, at 16, got pregnant and was shunned by her parents, friends and community.  She gives the baby up for adoption, and cannot return to her former life.  As a result, the course of her life and her inner struggles take on a sad and unique journey. 

While Hall tells a sad, interesting story, I found myself struggling to get through the book.  Undoubtedly, she was treated abysmally by her parents and friends when she became pregnant at 16 years old.  This family and community “shunning,” along with giving up her baby for adoption, stays with her through the course of her life.  Very sad, poignant stuff.  But, Hall reminds us, practically every paragraph, over and over, that she is in pain, sad, alone, detached, etc.  Hall needs to trust her readers more, that once she explains her pain, we “get it,” and that as she continues the course of her life, her actions tell us that she is dealing with something internal that drives her on her strange path.  We don’t need to be told over and over and over again. 

There are very interesting, meaty parts of the story.  She buys a fishing boat with a boyfriend and fishes through a storm, she walks through Europe to the Middle East with no money, and she cares for her mother through a terrible terminal disease.  But these moments are dragged down by the over emphasis of her feelings.  Meredith also chooses to ignore chronology again and again, and also leaves huge holes in her story – just when we are riveted by her story, she jumps to a whole new part of her life.  For instance, one chapter ends with her in the Middle East, broke, practically naked, when she decides to go home.  The next chapter starts and she has two children.  How did she get home?  How did she meet and fall in love with the father?  What changes in this empty person’s life to open up to another human and decide to create a new life?  It is a mystery. It is like she ignores her own story to tell us again and again how she feels.

While there is some good stuff here, and Hall is a talented writer, I found this to be a tedious attempt.  I needed more meat, less gravy.

Visit Meredith Hall’s website HERE

Blogger Bio:  Elaine Legere is stay-at-home mommy and part-time marketing consultant, after years of working for Disney, Palm (aka Palm Pilot), Los Angeles Times, and Details Magazine.  She received her BA at UCLA in English Literature and an MBA from University of Colorado. She is an avid reader, loves movies, and all things outdoors.

Note from Lisa/Books on the Brain:  Elaine is a friend from my real-life book club. Thanks, Elaine, for an insightful review!

12 Responses

  1. Oh wow, great review. Thanks for the honesty 🙂

  2. Nice review, Lisa!

  3. Too bad this wasn’t better. I flagged this book when it first came out and never got around to it.

  4. I had been thinking of reading this, but it sounds like it would annoy me too much. Thanks for the review!

  5. Elaine, I thought this book looked so good when I first read about it but I’ve since read other reviews that indicated what you did – while it has potential, this memoir falls short. Too bad, as it seems she had an interesting life with lots of fodder for a great story.

  6. Her story is both amazing and heartbreaking but those jumps you’re talking about would drive me nuts.

  7. Lisa – thanks for the honest review; I like to see the ups and downs in the books we read (they can’t all be 5-star!)

    Your “more meat, less gravy” had me laughing!

  8. oops, I read this was a guest review, then addressed my post to Lisa. Sorry, Elaine, I enjoyed *your* review! (blushing)

  9. I appreciate your honesty. I’m picky about which memoirs I read, and when I do read them, I want the details. It would drive me insane to have so much time and so many events take place between chapters without mentioning them at least a little. Still, the author’s life sounds like it makes a good book.

  10. sounds like there needed to be some more refinement here.

  11. It’s really interesting how different people take away different things from the same book. I read it last year and it fired me up. I understand what Elaine means about the jumps, but they didn’t bother me. For me, her marriage was another story all together and would have gotten in the way. I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. Here’s a link to my review if you’re interested.

  12. I wanted so much for this memoir to live up to its promise. Parts I simply did not believe. The author, still a child in some respects, wants what her parents can not and could not give. So many of us have had to deal with that, and I empathize…but, finally, we have to move on.

    And, as a Canadian (and frequent Newfoundland traveler) I was offended at the patronizing treatment of the character of Carolyn. I’m a bit touchy about this, I realize. I was the lone Canadian taking graduate courses in writing at UNH and was always shocked at the easy dismissal and stereotyping of Canadians of whatever stripe.

    For the most part, I loved this book–many episodes will stay with me a long time. Wonderful writing for the most part. A bit too much angst and hand-wringing in parts, and a few too many violins here and there. But, would I love to have written such a lovely book? Of course I would.

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