Servants of the Map


The characters in Andrea Barrett’s lovely new collection, ”Servants of the Map,” are all devoted in some way to science and its implicit promises of order and direction. Searchers by trade, they crave knowledge, and crumble when their discipline can’t make up for human frailty in matters of love and death. These tenderly connected stories, which link the generations and revisit characters from Barrett’s previous works, ”The Voyage of the Narwhal” and ”Ship Fever,” span two centuries and range from the Himalayan peaks to a poolside gathering of Nobel laureates in Philadelphia. In “The Cure,” tuberculosis patients seek the restorative mountain air of an Adirondacks community. When a man dies, his caretaker wonders, “If this was where we were all headed–then what was the point of anything?” “‘Everyone feels this way the first time,'” reassures the nurse. “‘As if we’re the only ones to understand what really lies at the heart of the world. Until you get used to it, nothing can make you feel more alone.'” Barrett, wise and restrained, can say more about grief in one exchange than many authors can force into an entire book.

Servants of the Map
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