August 11 – 17, 2023Vol. 25, No. 9

The Book of Maps

by Martha F. Barkley

Who does not like a writer who thanks his high school teacher in the acknowledgements of his first novel? Westminster, Md. was where the family lived, and Book of Maps author Ernest Thompson’s father was an English professor at Westminster College. I visited the campus and considered applying for entrance back in the 1960s, lovely mountain area of Maryland.

Who does not like a writer who incorporates his own sister as “Essie” in his first novel? Yes, Esther was referred to at least three times that I remember. She was a decent pianist, perhaps some sibling jealousy?

Who does not like a camping trip of a father, 52, and son, 10, across the entire country from California to New Hampshire? Only two weeks of fun and frolic and misbehavior, but oh what a time they had. I did happen to skip a lot of the father’s introspection and frustrations. The ten-year old son offered to me more complete, careful reading.

“The sight of Yosemite Valley opening its heart to modern-day vagabonds was still as staggering as it must have been to explore in the 1800s…Even a ten year old with an attitude was jolted from his stupor…” I was grabbed by this scene on page 13 and the following travel stops.

Yes, the continuous humor got me, too, like pitching a tent inside the first night motel room to practice, so they would not be embarrassed by other campers watching. The Fritos FUN with bears was hilarious. I am still amused and scared like the father.

Mentioning favorite reads along the journey of this novel intrigued me. From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to the final pages about Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring. Who can resist perusing this father-son trip of a lifetime?

Skipping the father’s constant introspection about becoming a “better father” did not remove me from his son’s worthy journey of growing up. The Inset chapters puzzled me a bit, but maybe your reading, dear reader, will be clearer than mine.

“The Star Valley Branch Library in Afton, Wyoming, was like going home for both Tibbits, a temple of a different order, a place of worship indeed…”

A poster on the library wall:

A picture’s worth a thousand words
Words create a million pictures
Do the math

The librarian in her sixties was a good match for both father and son. When a deal was reached to borrow a classic book and mail it back, one wonders at the three creative negotiators. Spoiler alert: The son was responsible and mailed the book back. Rolex watch for his dad, was it returned in exchange?

“Gibbering loquaciously” is on page 163. By then, our son Matthew and I began to skip reading. That is OK, reader, the gist of the story is not missed in this novel. I reread page 172 and did not get it. Help! Also the constant banter of vulgar language and the numerous italicized sentences mystified me. “Huck and Bad Word Jim” made me wonder why the N-word was implied this way when other common, bad words spewed out voluminously.

The mystery of the missing briefcase is certainly a puzzle until the end. The father is a writer AND is he Ernest Thompson? Camera shots telling only part of the story certainly rang true with me, smiling not always genuine or sad eyes with grins.

On Valentine’s Day, I called Marcia Haigh, our [former] librarian from Belgrade Public Library at her New Hampshire home to share our lives and love of books. She recommended Ernest Thompson’s first novel to me. I immediately ordered it from Renee Cunningham at Oliver and Friends.

Our son in California actually had his copy from Keplers Bookstore in Menlo Park quicker than my order. (Not Renee’s problem, I gave her an incorrect address.)

Fun to read a book with someone else, isn’t it? Who can resist our On Golden Pond" playwright? Ernest Thompson certainly writes his novel like a play, with multiple thoughts of every character, especially the troubled father, and extensive descriptions of every scene. The vocabulary is way beyond my pay grade, but you can Google definitions if you so desire.

The Cody, Wyoming rodeo brought back many memories of our family attending a similar event in the 1950s. “Today Brendan was tuning in Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday; he could hear Miss Kitty cooing from the swinging doors of the Longbranch and a Wagon Train bowling across the range.” This meant a lot to me because during COVID we watched Gunsmoke all day long rather than the news.

Let us get together and discuss this first novel by our very own playwright and director and actor, Ernest Thompson. Maybe his sister Esther would like to join the discussion, too? Hope you read The Book of Maps from our Belgrade Public Library or buy your own copy, as I did.

(Webmaster’s Note: You can join author Ernest Thompson to hear about The Book of Maps on Saturday, August 19, at 4:00 p.m. at the Center for All Seasons on Route 27 in Belgrade Lakes. Free and open to the public, the presentation will include a meet and greet, a reading by Thompson from his new novel, the opportunity to buy a copy and/or have one signed by the author, a Q&A session about On Golden Pond (both the play and the movie), and an auction of On Golden Pond memorabilia donated by Thompson from his personal collection, with all book and auction proceeds benefiting the Belgrade Lakes Association.)

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