Revenge and Release

Other Maps

A review of Other Maps by Rebecca Morris

Published on July 4, 2024

Empathy, especially when it links to compassion, can be a potent healer. To someone as wounded as Anna, healing might seem far-fetched. Yet, as Rebecca Morris’ globetrotting protagonist illustrates, kindness and understanding can help pave the way. 

Other Maps
Rebecca Morris

Linda Leith Publishing
$22.95
paper
314pp
9781773901626

Tackling a sensitive topic, Morris may steer readers outside their comfort zone, yet her debut novel has grip, the road rich with unexpected twists. Here, friendship is a life-saving light on a young woman’s quest for truth in the aftermath of sexual assault. 

Other Maps is set in the Montreal author’s home city, Guelph, Ontario, a place Anna would rather forget. In 2004, the twenty-six-year-old is still living in exile from herself, behaving with the kind of recklessness of someone who assumes they have little left to lose. Trying to distance herself from the past, she escapes through travel, alcohol, drugs, and indiscriminate sex. Yet, during a visit home to Guelph for her father’s retirement party, she reconnects with her childhood best friend, Helen, who compassionately offers to help her investigate what really happened ten years earlier during Olly Sutton’s New Year’s party, the night when all the rumours began.

Morris paints vivid visual portraits, her characters colourful with eye-catching qualities. Anna’s tough-girl carapace, a shield against the gossip spread by peers, alludes to her resilience. Sporting bleached dreadlocks, piercings, and a “riot of tattoos,” she’s barely recognizable to Helen when she shows up unannounced at her work. “They’re like a map,” she says, explaining her tattoos, which are conspicuously devoid of Guelph markers. “Where I’ve been. What happened along the way.” 

Helen’s skin bears another kind of map, not one she would have chosen. Her whole life, she’s been trying to cover up a facial birthmark her stepfather compares to “a map of Switzerland.” She remembers how, even as a baby, she was made to wear makeup, as her mother tried to hide her birthmark with foundation. Having absorbed her mother’s shame over this perceived imperfection, she carves out a career in cosmetics, helping other women to conceal their supposed flaws.  

Morris writes in clear, straightforward language, keeping things real with unfiltered-sounding dialogue. As Anna begins to piece together the New Year’s party that derailed her life, her anger understandably flares. “I’m going to blow up their fucking lives,” she swears, revenge fantasies fuelling her search. 

Other Maps sheds light on the culture that can play into sexual violence in young men, and shows how women may, sometimes unwittingly, add to the fallout. In high school, Anna is ostracized and slut-shamed by female peers who jump to unfair conclusions. Years later, while sticking up for herself, she’s challenged by her own mother, who’d prefer she keep quiet to maintain the status quo. 

Scenes from Helen’s life expose the toxic rivalry that can crop up when women buy into limiting social norms. Catty competition from a married former classmate, for example, tests Helen’s already compromised confidence. “God, I would hate it if my little sister got married before me,” the woman gloats condescendingly when she finds out Helen’s younger sister is engaged. “But don’t worry, Helen, I’m sure your time will come.” 

Readers are kept on edge as Anna journeys into the most painful and perilous stretches of her memory. As she turns to face her trauma head-on,  one wonders if revenge is her only route forward, or if another path will emerge. Come what may, Helen and Anna stick up for one another, validating each other’s experiences. Mutual empathy fosters self-compassion, and their outer worlds begin to shift in surprising ways, reflecting rising levels of self-respect. Satisfyingly, Other Maps closes on what feels more like an opening, an upward trajectory defined by dignity and release, providing a clear, window-seat view of  the restorative powers of friendship.mRb

Kimberly Bourgeois  is a Montreal-based writer/singer-songwriter. Visit her at kimberlybourgeois.com for news about her music and writing projects.

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