Without a Map
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.
Praise For Without a Map: A Memoir…
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. Without a Map is a masterpiece.
—David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and God Laughs and Plays
"Heartbreaking, uplifting, and luminous, Without a Map contains some of the most lyrical and evocative prose I have I ever read. 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. " —Kim Barnes, author of In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country
Winner of the Elle nonfiction readers’ pick for the month of April:
"In this stark, stunning, and devastating account of being shunned by her family and New England community after giving birth out of wedlock in the ’60s, Hall writes about what was and what might have been. Particularly moving is her haunting description of wandering in Europe and the Middle East, ultimately shoeless, penniless, and utterly alone. Refreshingly, she tells about life via a collection of beautifully rendered sketches instead of a linear narrative."—Sheila McClear, NYC
"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 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
"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 For the Time Being
"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. Few people write like this. Fewer still have the courage to live like this—without the comfort of any cliché."—Lauren Slater, author of Opening Skinner's Box, Prozac Diary, and Welcome to My Country
"Meredith Hall's magnificent book held me in its thrall from the moment I began reading the opening pages. It is a moving example of a difficult life redeemed first through examination, then reflection, then finally it turns—like a rough stone polished until it gleams—into a genuine work of art."—Dani Shapiro, author of Family History
"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
"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 Meredith Hall’s memoir, the story of giving up a child at the age of sixteen, and then meeting him when he was twenty-one, years later, and now forging a relationship with him. It’s an unbelievable read." —Robin Young, "Here and Now"
Beacon Press, 9780807072738, 248pp.
Publication Date: April 1, 2007
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.” Chapter 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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?