cover image Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies

Maddie Mortimer. Scribner, $18.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-982181-77-2

A British woman’s breast cancer returns in Mortimer’s poignant and inventive debut, told in part by the disease. Lia, 43 and a children’s author, is devastated to learn her cancer is back after a two-year absence. Her professor husband, Harry, assures her they’ll fight it, while Lia’s unsure of how to tell their 12-year-old daughter, Iris. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, Lia reveals how as a teenager she and a boy named Matthew, a student of Lia’s vicar father, become secret lovers. When her parents find out, they make other arrangements for Matthew, and Lia leaves for university in London. Later she receives a postcard from Matthew telling her to join him in Italy. Their paths converge and diverge a couple more times, while in the present Lia and her family struggle to manage her worsening illness. The cancer intrudes with bursts of modernist lyricism (“If I could rub my hands together, gnarl out a poisonous twat-cackle, pick open their dreams or leave my own little marks in their diaries, I would”), which can feel excessive, but the author does a good job tying everything together. Though this first outing is a bit baggy, Mortimer shows promise. Agent: Zoe Waldie, RCW Literary. (June)