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Without a Map: A Memoir
by Meredith Hall

Published: 2007-04-11
Hardcover : 248 pages
6 members reading this now
6 clubs reading this now
2 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 5 members
Meredith Hall's moving but unsentimental memoir begins in 1965, when she becomes pregnant at sixteen. Shunned by her insular New Hampshire community, she is then kicked out of the house by her mother. Her father and stepmother reluctantly take her in, hiding her before they finally banish ...
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Introduction

(Meredith Hall's moving but unsentimental memoir begins in 1965, when she becomes pregnant at sixteen. Shunned by her insular New Hampshire community, she is then kicked out of the house by her mother. Her father and stepmother reluctantly take her in, hiding her before they finally banish her altogether. After giving her baby up for adoption, Hall wanders recklessly through the Middle East, where she survives by selling her possessions and finally her blood. She returns to New England and stitches together a life that encircles her silenced and invisible grief. When he is twenty-one, her lost son finds her. Hall learns that he grew up in gritty poverty with an abusive father?in her own father's hometown. Their reunion is tender, turbulent, and ultimately redemptive. Hall's parents never ask for her forgiveness, yet as they age, she offers them her love. What sets Without a Map apart is the way in which loss and betrayal evolve into compassion, and compassion into wisdom.

"Meredith Hall boldly charts one of the bravest of stories, the journey from disrupted youth up through that most tricky and forbidding territory, the family circle. Bone-honest and strong in its every line, this work of memory is a remarkably deep retrieval of its times and souls, thereby reflecting our own."
?Ivan Doig, author of Heart Earth

"This is an unusually elegant memoir that feels as though its been carved straight out of Meredith Hall's capacious heart. The story is riveting, the words perfect. It is rare to read a work that manages to be at once artful and compelling, which for me best describes Meredith Hall's debut work. She is an author who deserves to be widely read. Few people write like this. Fewer still have the courage to live like this – without the comfort of any clich."
?Lauren Slater, author of Opening Skinner's Box, Prozac Diary, and Welcome to My Country

"Meredith Hall's long journey from an inexcusably betrayed girlhood to the bittersweet mercies of womanhood is a triple triumph?of survival; of narration; and of forgiveness. Her portrait of her own empty bravado collapsing into total psychological and geographical dislocation is one of the most harrowing passages I've ever read. The subsequent turn toward memory and honesty is agonized, profound, and salvific. Without a Map is a masterpiece."
?David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and God Laughs and Plays

"Meredith Hall is like a geiger counter ticking along the radium edge of these recent decades. She gives us self as expert-witness?Without a Map is smart, sharp, and redemptively honest. "
?Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies and My Sky Blue Trades

"Meredith Hall's story of loss, shame, and betrayal is also a story of joy, reconnection, and survival; each memory takes us deep to the marrow of sorrow and celebration. A work of extraordinary beauty and grace."
?Kim Barnes, author of In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country

"Without A Map tells an important and perceptive story about loss, about aloneness and isolation in a time of great need, about a life slowly coming back into focus and the calm that finally emerges. Meredith Hall is a brave new writer who earns our attention."
?Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

"Think for a moment of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, of banishment, reconciliation, redemption, and you'll get the scope of Without a Map, the new memoir by Meredith Hall . . . An extraordinary tale, made all the more moving by Hall's unsentimental prose and ample heart."
?gettrio.com

"a compelling, painful, hopeful story." ?more.com

"Meredith Hall's magnificent book held me in its thrall from the moment I began reading the opening pages. WITHOUT A MAP is a fluid, beautifully-written, hard-won piece of work that belongs on the shelf next to the best modern memoirs, and yet is in a category all its own. It is a moving example of a difficult life redeemed first through examination, then reflection, then finally?like a rough stone polished until it gleams?into a genuine work of art."
?Dani Shapiro, author of Family History

"Hall, a brave and graceful writer who teaches at UNH, examines her life with wide open eyes and an equally open heart. Even as she wrestles with the grief of many losses?her child, her parents' love and respect, her standing in her community, her identity?she demonstrates the writer's gift of separating from her own experiences, establishing an objectivity that allows her to make meaning for herself and readers."
?Rebecca Rule, Nashua Telegraph

"Open adoptions and connections between birth mothers and their children were not the way of life for a young girl who got pregnant in the '60s. Meredith Hall, in her beautifully written, poignant memoir, tells us what life was like for a naive girl who found herself pregnant and abandoned by her mother and father. This is a tale of loss, of endless traveling in search of an intangible something, and, ultimately, of forgiveness."
?Gayle Shanks, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ

"Hall's sensitive, honest account of her personal odyssey shows one remarkable woman transcending this trauma to become a better, stronger person."
?Wendy Smith, AARP The Magazine

"Hall's life, as depicted in this memoir, was nothing if not two things?difficult and fascinating. With no family, friends or other support system, she took her life into her own hands at an early, tender age, and she fell quite far before finally rising up. The reader gets the benefit of her trials, a gritty view of the world from America to Europe to the Middle East."
?INtake Weekly

"Without a Map tells a stunning story of exile and ostracization. Meredith grew up on the seacoast of New Hampshire and became pregnant at age 16, in 1965. Her memoir is a rare and clear glimpse into the social mores of the mid 60's, and reveals the state of shame many families faced when an unmarried daughter became pregnant."
?Liz Bulkley, Host of "The Front Porch," NH Public Radio

"Appalling and infuriating, yet uplifting and inspiring, Without A Map pulls you into Hall's personal experience of sudden rejection and expulsion from her only sources of sustenance and connection. As an adoptive parent I cried and cheered for her through her exile and return to a very different home. Meredith Hall is a hero of awesome courage and eloquence."
?Frank Kramer, Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA

"[Without a Map] is a searing memoir about loss, betrayal, love and, in some measure, reconciliation. It has already brought Hall a celebrity that surprises her: stories in People, Oprah and Elle, an interview on National Public Radio, brisk sales in a crowded marketplace. It is on the extended New York Times bestseller list. What is arresting about this memoir is the world it reveals."
?Mike Pride, Concord Monitor

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

Relationships: Relationships form some of Meredith’s central challenges: relationships with her mother, her father, Catherine, Erik, Paul, Ruth, Armi, William. What are some of the recurring challenges relationships provide? Do any of these relationships resemble your own challenges with relationships?

Protecting: Meredith’s parents don’t protect her. Meredith doesn’t protect her first son, but gives him up. The teachers at High Mowing say, “We must protect the girls.” Paul protects Ruth. Meredith protects her two younger sons. As her parents age, Meredith protects them from confrontation with the truth of her past. Is protecting always a good thing? How can you tell the difference?

Survival: When Meredith calls her mother from High Mowing School, looking for sympathy, her mother tells her. “You have no choice. You’ll be fine.… You are a survivor.” What would you have told Meredith? How does Meredith eventually survive and flourish?

Wild things and domestication: Without a Map is full of references to wild things and to domestication, and is something of a struggle to hold both dear. Remember the wild scenes, including the storm at High Mowing, the storm at sea with Erik, Meredith’s mother driving out into hurricanes, the demonstrations at Cambridge, the many scenes during Meredith’s wanderings through Europe and the Middle East. The scenes of domestication include some of the early home life, the girls at Bennington College, and creating homes out of apartments while with Erik. In some places wildness and domestication are carved into the same scenes: in Newfoundland, while killing chickens, in the homey cabin in Maine’s wilderness. What roles do you think the wilderness and domestication play in the unfolding drama of Meredith’s life? Do they have roles in your life?

The Sixties: Without a Map continually makes reference to the political activities of the 60s—the Hampton Beach riots, the Vietnam War, demonstrations in Cambridge. Yet the narrator says that she doesn’t consider what happened to her to be a product of the times. Do you think the setting in time is important? Could this be a story of anytime?

Identity: Meredith’s identity is stripped from her when she becomes pregnant and is shunned by her family, her school, her church, and her local community. Chapter Six, “Drawing the Line,” deals in particular with identity and the stories we tell ourselves. In the final pages of the book, the author comes to a calm, rooted sense of self. How do you think she achieved that?

Belonging and Loss: The sense of belonging is continually interrupted by losses in Meredith’s life: her father leaves home, her mother throws her out, Meredith abandons her baby, church and school and community shun her. Meredith talks of her wanderings in Europe as a search for disconnection and perfect detachment, and says, “My baby is shaped like this hole in me.” Paul says, “I am an alien. I belonged to no one.” Yet comfort is found in imperfect reunions and in basic biological facts, the sharing of cells and minerals. Meredith finally concludes, “I will return home, part of the world.” What is home, and what does it mean to belong?

Love: In the first chapter, Meredith reads The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Meredith’s father and Catherine seem to find love in each other. Meredith’s mother looks for love in many places. Meredith begs Erik, “Say it.” Paul says, “My mother loving me is what saved my life,” yet Meredith and Ruth “both understand that love is not enough.” Thirteen ends with the words, “We love each other. We need each other. That is our only map.” How is love a map? Is love a map in your life?

Women’s place: Why were other misfits tolerated, but not the pregnant girl? As young people, Paul stands up to Armi, but Meredith didn’t stand up to her father or to her mother. Do you think this has anything to do with gender roles? Are middle-aged women invisible? Is Meredith invisible?

Mothering: We meet many mothers in Without a Map: Meredith’s mother, Meredith, Catherine, Ruth, the girl who comes to the photocopy shop, the women in the desert. What does Without a Map say about being a mother?

Class: Meredith’s mother told her, “Don’t drag us down.” Armi told Paul, “Don’t get above your upbringing.” The fishermen don’t consider Erik as belonging because he is not of their class. Does Meredith’s sense of dislocation have anything to do with class?

Forgiveness: Does forgiveness always require words? Is anything lacking in the forgiveness Meredith and her mother offer each other? What about Meredith and her father, Meredith and Paul, Ruth and Paul and Armi?

Death: The latter chapters refer often to death: the death of Meredith’s mother, of Ruth, of William, the impending death of Meredith’s father. Do you think thoughts about death contribute in any way to the sense of calm that pervades the last chapter?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Without a Map"by SandyTague (see profile) 12/01/10

Depressing story about a pregnant teenager who is ostrosized from her family, community and school. Very fragmented writing. I was shocked to read that the author is a university English teacher.

 
  "Need A Map or GPS"by tballard (see profile) 11/18/10

Well written but not convincing. Lots of gaps. Wandered.

 
  "Inspiring story but a little depressing."by marshlynn (see profile) 11/05/10

It brought back images of an era that happily has passed by...when pregnant girls shamed their families and were cast-out. It was a nostalgic read because I remember those times, grew up in them, so I... (read more)

 
  "Without A Map"by paulareid (see profile) 11/05/10

This is a beautifully written book. While we can all be appalled at how dysfunctional her family is, Meredith's capacity to forgive is an inspiration. I would highly recommend this book.

 
  "Diffficult to follow, a few insightful moments that redeemed"by patpat49 (see profile) 05/10/09

Memoirs can be dificult and hard to follow...I did this, then I did that, with little reason (maybe that's how life really is...), so this book followed that style. It is unbelievable the situations she... (read more)

 
  "Somewhat confusing at times"by mblake (see profile) 04/20/09

I enjoyed this book, but, found myself wondering what she was talking about sometimes. She seems to have left some parts out of the book. Very sad during those times and really felt for her.

 
  "A disfunctional family disowns Meredith when she becomes pregnant in highschool in 1965. She is sent away and shunned by her family for the rest of her life. She then starts a journey that takes her"by anniem214 (see profile) 08/22/08

My book club loved this book and it inspired a lot of discussion.

 
  "this book affects so many people you know your not out there alone"by katriordan (see profile) 07/29/08

most people in the group loved this book, it hit very close to
home for me, so i did not like it as much. i feel you are dealt your cards and make the most of it which, meredith hall seemed to do.

 
  "Honest and moving portrayal of one woman's journey to heal and make sense of her life while honoring and keeping those who played important roles in her process."by lefink (see profile) 07/26/08

This book moved everyone in our group. There were even a few who said they did not like the book, then to discover that the reason was because it touch many issues that were yet unresolved in their own... (read more)

 
  "A touching and inspiring story!"by madelude (see profile) 05/02/08

My book club and I read this book for our April meeting, and we were lucky enough to attend a reading and signing with the author, Meredith Hall.

I loved the book, and after meeting Mere

... (read more)

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