Critics often compare Jane Hamilton favorably to another midwestern author, Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, whose novels A Thousand Acres and Moo are set in farm country and explore human resiliency in the face of great obstacles. Hamilton’s novels are set in the Midwest, the area where she spent her childhood, attended college, and lived as a full-time writer. Her fiction is populated by rural and small town family members, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters, who endure life’s tragedies with stoicism and frankness, traits often associated with inhabitants of the heartland; Hamilton, though, does not allow her characters to sink into caricature.
Orchards, fields, farmhouses, and main streets provide the backdrop for events that disrupt the quietude of the country environment. The murder of a mother-in-law in The Book of Ruth, allegations of child abuse in A Map of the World, the closeted life of a gay man in The Short History of a Prince, a mother’s extramarital affair in Disobedience, and a family secret in When Madeline Was Young seem drawn from the tabloids, but Hamilton avoids sensationalism. Instead, the challenges and shocks faced by her characters allow her to explore fundamental human values such as forgiveness, reconciliation, acceptance, and loyalty.
Like its predecessor, A Map of the World is set in a rural community, but it shifts its focus to...
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