“That the peace aches more than the misery.”
My ninth read of the 2022 Booker Prize longlist was Maddie Mortimer’s debut novel, Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies (Scribner 2022). Much like many of the other books on the longlist, Maps is rather a unique story. Mortimer elects to use font and format to provide an enhanced reading experience, which works well – at least most of the time.
The novel is centered around Lia, who is dying of cancer. Memories of her life, tortured conversations with her estranged mother and a toxic first love, are written on her body. But so is the good. The swell of her stomach when she was pregnant. The moment she fell in love with her husband. Moments with her daughter. Laughs with Connie. In flashes, her life unfolds – narrated in part by the cancer that is eating her.
Her memories reside inside her body, and her loved ones try and fight the cancer from within: Raven (her father) and Dove (her mother). Gardener with daisies in his eyes (her husband), Yellow (her bright daughter), Velvet (her beloved friend) and Fossil (her first love). Red, the boy on his bike, is the chemo treatment that courses through her body.
With Death approaching Lia, her husband finds himself despairingly contemplating life without her, leaning into a possible affair and battling jealousy over that first love that has so marked her life. Her daughter, Iris, in that fragile time between girl and teen, is struggling the most. She finds herself caught in a middle grade “mean girls” situation where secrets are currency. Lia’s mother, Anne, is trying desperately to right the wrongs made oh so many years ago.
The Cancer is a malevolent character, thriving on chaos, brokenness, and destruction, who enjoys breaking Lia’s spirit as much as her body.
Like unexpected fireworks in the night, Maps hits with an unexpected BOOM! followed by brilliant colors full of life, and leaving the faint but not unpleasant smell of gunpower and whispers of smoke in the blue-black sky.
Read this book.
Booker Count: 9 of 13.