Without A Map
by Meredith Hall


Beacon Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8070-7273-8.
Reviewed by Edith O'Nuallain
Posted on 09/30/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir

This is the harrowing tale of a child who was betrayed by her mother and father, and a child who became a mother and then betrayed her own child. The story begins with the sudden loss of everything that Meredith Hall held dear—her parents' love, her home, her place in the community, her school friends—when she was deserted for the sin of becoming pregnant at 16. The memoir is a sustained reflection on how this betrayal played itself out through the rest of her life.

Throughout the book, Hall tries to understand the terrible betrayal of her parents' love, a love bordered by conditions, the most important one being "Thou shalt not bring shame upon us." With startling honesty, she consistently refuses to gloss over, deny, or ignore the consequences of her actions or those of her parents, most notably in her account of the abuses her abandoned son, Paul, suffered at the hands of his adoptive father. Hall never hides from the scars she inflicted on her beloved son, and insists on forcing herself to note the terrible differences between the upbringings her 3 sons experienced—the first child a life of deprivation and fear, the others, lives of love and comfort. There is no possibility of reconciling these facts, nor does she attempt to.

Hall holds all the violent and conflicting emotions together, never allowing the one to cancel out the other—love and rage, trust and betrayal, need and abandonment, loss and guilt. Her writing carries no contradictions, just the paradoxes of a life lived and declared in lines of lyrical beauty, with passages of exquisite beauty, so finely detailed that it hurts to read. It is a testament to Hall's many years of deep reflection and personal honesty that she could sustain this juxtaposing and balancing of opposites without allowing her work to collapse under the weight of the awful emotional overload she has lived through.

Although this memoir makes for compelling reading, it is not always an easy read. To read it is to become immersed in the terrible suffering of an untethered soul seeking love lost. Hall partially finds what she has spent a lifetime looking for when she is reunited with her 21-year-old son, and when she opens her home and gradually her heart to an old man who is afraid to continue living alone after the death of his wife. But in the end this is a book about life and living. Hall succeeds in gleaning wisdom from a grief begun in a betrayal and carried in a wounded heart through her life. She discovers a joy that "lies like a shimmering pond within our grief, the landscape of our lives."

In the end, Hall asks herself if she would choose a different life, if she would forget all the pain. And the answer she gives is surely the only answer possible. "No. Memory remains. The uneasy remembering transforms pain into sorrow, and sorrow into love. There can be no oblivion."


Meredith Hall teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire. She lives in Maine. She has been awared multiple prizes and honors for her writing, and has been published widely in journals and anthologies. Visit her website.

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