MAP OF THE HEART – Susan Wiggs
A Perfect 10
Present Day in Bethany Bay, Delaware, and Southern France, now and 1941 to ‘45.
Camille Palmer Adams lost her optimism and courage when she lost her beloved husband five years ago. She still has her parents, though they have been divorced for a long time. She shares a shop in town with her mother and also has a partnership in a business specializing in preserving and developing old film. But her greatest treasure is her fourteen-year-old daughter, Julie, whom she protects with all her might . . . perhaps too much so, for Julie is beginning to rebel under the smothering. She's not the smiling, happy child with lots of friends she once was. Camille and Julie have a close relationship with Camille's father Henry, a Frenchman who immigrated to the U.S. as a young man.
When he's not teaching in France, History Professor Malcolm (Finn) Finnemore's avocation is locating and identifying MIA military personnel whose bodies have never been found. He often uses old film to get clues to their whereabouts. He sends Camille an exposed roll of film to develop. Unfortunately, just as she's in her darkroom ready to develop, she hears a message on her cell phone saying her daughter is in the hospital ER with an injury she got in a serf rescue class that her mother forbade her to enroll in. As she dashes off, the film is exposed and ruined. Finn later shows up at her home. He's angry . . . the film was one of his missing father's.
Camille's father, Henry Palmer (once Palomar), is in remission from the cancer he recently underwent treatment for, and he wants to visit France, where he owns a large farm under lease for years. He convinces Camille to join him during the summer. She reluctantly agrees to travel—her father shouldn't go alone—and it would be good for Julie. And she might just see Finn again.
MAP OF THE HEART is divided into several parts, parts that alternate between the present in the U.S. and France and in France during the Italian and then the German occupations. There are several major characters in France in both eras. The main one in the war years is Henry's mother, Lisette, who also enjoyed photography. Many of her photos were found in the attic of the old farmhouse after the roof suffered damage. Family secrets were also uncovered.
MAP OF THE HEART is an unusual and thoroughly enjoyable novel full of suspense, soul healing and growth. The characters are delightful, both in the past and present; they come alive under Ms. Wiggs's very talented pen. The whole was interesting with its large cast and several plot threads, yet not at all difficult to follow. Hence its rare Perfect 10 award.
I almost named this Women's Fiction , but why leave out any males who would like this trip through time? They have hearts, too.