When Madeline Was Young
By Jane Hamilton
(Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385516716, 288pp.)
Publication Date: September 19, 2006
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Jane Hamilton, award-winning author of The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World, is back in top form with a richly textured novel about a tragic accident and its effects on two generations of a family.
When Aaron Maciver’s beautiful young wife, Madeline, suffers brain damage in a bike accident, she is left with the intellectual powers of a six-year-old. In the years that follow, Aaron and his second wife care for Madeline with deep tenderness and devotion as they raise two children of their own.
Narrated by Aaron's son, Mac, When Madeline Was Young chronicles the Maciver family through the decades, from Mac’s childhood growing up with Madeline and his cousin Buddy in Wisconsin through the Vietnam War, through Mac’s years as a husband with children of his own, and through Buddy’s involvement with the subsequent Gulf Wars. Jane Hamilton, with her usual humor and keen observations of human relationships, deftly explores the Maciver's unusual situation and examines notions of childhood (through Mac and Buddy’s actual youth as well as Madeline’s infantilization) and a rivalry between Buddy’s and Mac’s families that spans decades and various wars. She captures the pleasures and frustrations of marriage and family, and she exposes the role that past relationships, rivalries, and regrets inevitably play in the lives of adults.
Inspired in part by Elizabeth Spencer’s Light in the Piazza, Hamilton offers an honest and exquisite portrait of how a family tragedy forever shapes and alters the boundaries of love.
JANE HAMILTON is the author of The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction, A Map of the World, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and named one of the top ten books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, the Miami Herald, and People magazine; Disobedience; and The Short History of a Prince. She lives in Rochester, Wisconsin.
- What aspects of youth are expressed in the novel's title? Was it wrong, as Figgy believes, to give Madeline the trappings of a little girl?
Praise for When Madeline Was Young
“Hamilton is exquisitely observant and unfailingly generous to the characters she creates: every life has weight and dignity" —Kirkus Reviews
“In her fifth and most transfixing and psychologically prismatic novel to date, Hamilton’s signature motifs take on new resonance and mystery as she creates perplexing familial relationships complicated by war. Hamilton has never written more finely nuanced or beguiling prose, imagined more fascinating characters, or posed more provocative moral dilemmas. In each surprising permutation, Hamilton offers fresh perspectives on the puzzles of time, memory, and consciousness, and keenly gauges the many shades of guilt and audacity, grief and sacrifice, tenacity and goodness.” —Booklist (starred)
“Her story is about how people, by bonding together, can transcend tragedy and loss with love, tolerance, and humor. Recommended for all fiction collections.” —Library Journal
Praise for The Book of Ruth
“Ms. Hamilton gives Ruth a humble dignity and allows her hope—but it’s not a heavenly hope. It’s a common one, caked with mud and held with gritted teeth. And it’s probably the only kind that’s worth reading about.” New York Times Book Review
Praise for A Map of the World
“It takes a writer of rare power and discipline to carry off an achievement like A Map of the World. Hamilton proves here that she is one of our best.” —Newsweek
“Stunning prose and unforgettable characters…an enthralling tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying ways our lives can spin out of control.” —Entertainment Weekly (A+)
Praise for The Short History of a Prince
“With intelligence and empathy—and drawing on rich veins of irony—Hamilton tells the story of Walter’s search to define his talents . . . at once surprising and redemptive.” —New York Times Book Review
“Hamilton’s third novel and arguably her best, for it matches its range of emotion with a technical precision both masterful and haunting . . . Hamilton has eased time and memory throughout her novel with the expert abandon of a dancer in full pirouette.” —Boston Globe
Praise for Disobedience
“Wonderful…Her finest novel yet.” —Chicago Tribune
“Lovely…resonant…keenly wrought.” —New York Times
“Funny and moving . . . An entertaining, well-plotted meditation on secrecy in the history of a loving family.” —San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle