The Book of Maps
by Ernest Thompson
Published October 2022 by Global Collective Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review
In the summer of 2002, Brendan Tibbet, a filmmaker whose luck has run low, takes his ten-year-old son Brenlyn on a raucous road trip across America. Following a 1930s travel guide Brendan purchased at a yard sale, the two-week trek from LA to New Hampshire covers 16 states, hitting the iconic stops along the way, Yosemite, the Great Salt Lake, Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, replete with wild exploits both hilarious and perilous, but it’s the interior journey that is enlightening, deeply poignant and life-changing.
Brendan assures the boy that each state will be an adventure, and on the second day proves it, seeing the kid washed away in fast-moving rapids, then foolishly putting them both in danger by refusing to back down to the massive black bear invading their campsite. That’s Brendan, impetuous and foolhardy, inciting trouble wherever he goes, a man with demons and bubbling angst. But neither of those missteps, or the many and scarier ones to follow, can begin to compare to the threatening storm cloud hanging over the expedition: the father’s struggle to find the perfect, worst time to reveal to his son the news that will break his heart and affect everything to follow.
Ernest Thompson’s debut novel is a skillful, magical piece of 20th-century fin de siècle writing depicting a United States that, even in the aftermath of 9-11, seems almost innocent contrasted to the horrors and divisions, racism and rage challenging us now. The Book of Maps, with its powerful father-son relationship and one man’s relentless albeit unintentional quest to evolve into the better angel we all aspire to be, will capture the imagination of readers and leave them wanting to relive this mad, irresistibly moving, ridiculously funny, reflective and inspiring cross-country odyssey again and again.
My husband loves travel novels so I knew this was one of him when it was offered to me for review. Here are his thoughts:
The Book of Maps, appears to be, from its cover, a normal travel story between a father and his son; but it ends up going many different directions along the way. Not quite as nuts as Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; but plenty of excitement, fun and danger, especially if you are a parent.
Other travel stories I've enjoyed include Blue Highways and a number of Paul Theroux books that were high on my list. The Flashman Chronicles would, I think, would be considered a strong contender for some of my favorite travel tales and of course a good many of Mark Twain's stories.
The first thing you notice is that Ernest Thompson has tremendous control of the English language. It takes a bit of getting used to at first, as his prose is pretty thick with his ability to use All of the English Language. But from the guy that wrote On Golden Pond, Thompson has great credentials, a strong grip on the human condition and the ability to create, build and expand relationships.
I presume the story comes, at least somewhat, from personal experience as Brenden and his son Brenlyn take us on a journey across the US from Southern California up to his home in New Hampshire. Lurking in the background is his crumbling marriage to Lynsay, that Brenden is slowly figuring out was destined to fail from the beginning. But the couple still have love, however incompatible. However, like is often the case in a break-up, they have a boy in the middle of it all. Brenden is going to take Brenlyn on a last big trip with using the Book of Maps as a bible. Brenden knows he is going to miss his son a great deal, not being around all of the time and being located across the country.
Brenden has had some strong success in his past but that's gone a bit dormant; on this trip he is beginning to hash some of this out. When Brenden gets back, and after weeks with his son where he knows this is the end of a normal family life,k we really don't know where Brenden is going to be in his life. Will he become a lazy drunk that circles the drain and dies lonely or will he get is mojo back and find some of the success he had early in life?
Of course, the other obvious element of the story is the question of what will become of the relationship between Brenden and Brenlyn. Early in the trip there is quite a bit of strife between the two; but they begin to find some common ground. Will they stay close after this long strange trip together or does Brenlyn find out things about his father that pull them further apart? Brenden has to spring the concept of divorce on him at some point along or at the end of the trip. When they separate will they have developed a bond that will last a lifetime and carry them forward or just visit once in the summer and over the holidays?
The Book of Maps is a very well written story, a nice read the flows well, has deep character building of characters who you care about and plenty of good and bad surprises along the way. Like on On Golden Pond, the story and characters feel real and the reader is convinced that the encounters along the way could be and may well have happened and they most people can relate to these slices of life. I really enjoyed the ride along.
Thanks, Big Guy!
About The Author:
Ernest Thompson has written numerous films, plays and songs, and has worked extensively as an actor and director. In addition to his Oscar for On Golden Pond, Ernest’s work has won two Golden Globes, a Writers Guild Award, a Broadway Drama Guild Award and been nominated for a Tony, an Emmy and a British Academy Award. His plays have been seen in theaters around the world, his most enduring, On Golden Pond, translated into 30 languages and presented in more than 40 countries. He currently is developing Cries of Valor in Defiance, depicting life in the pandemic and, with his writer wife Kerrin Thompson, has established Rescind Recidivism, a prison writing program designed to give inmates a chance to feel creative as well as human, capable and worthy.