Victoria Costello's Reviews > All Over the Map

All Over the Map by Laura Fraser
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Aug 08, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir
Read in July, 2011

Laura Fraser is a twice-published memoir writer and a memoir teacher, with whom I've had the pleasure of learning my craft. In her workshop, Laura encouraged us to take big risks, letting it all hang out in order to tell our unique stories. Teaching by example, Fraser did that and more in her newest memoir All Over the Map, now out in paperback. It's the sequel to her bestselling An Italian Affair.

Fraser's two memoirs chronicle her ten-year relationship with a married Frenchman whom she meets in Italy; a man whose name she never reveals, calling him simply "the Professor." Given all the intimate details she shares with her readers, we easily forgive Fraser's withholding of the man's name. For the second time, in All Over the Map Laura Fraser bares her trampled and ultimately reconstituted heart while redefining the role of "the other woman" in life and literature. The perspective of the mistress is relatively new to memoir, having remained in the shadows of the betrayed wife until fairly recently. As morality loosens and more memoirs are written, we read an increasing number of real-life romances told from the point of view of the character readers used to view exclusively as the "home wrecker." But even in that context, Fraser pushes boundaries.

Here's she explains how her secret relationship with the Professor began, after the end of her own marriage: "Twelve years ago, after 18 months of marriage, my husband left me unexpectedly, and when I could finally rouse myself to do anything, I booked a flight to Italy. Every time I'd been there, I'd felt happier, more alive, and I hoped that by speaking another language I would become another person for a while, one whose heart was whole."

After a blissful four-day affair on the island of Ischia, Fraser and the Professor part, leaving Fraser alone and feeling blue again, that is until -- "One chilly day that winter, at home, while I was in the midst of moving out of my husband's house and refiguring my finances, a postcard arrived from Paris. 'I couldn't forget,' the Professor wrote. And neither could I. That spring, we met in Milan. Six months later, we met in London, and the next fall he flew to San Francisco. Over the next three years, we met in Turin, Morocco and Mexico, immersing ourselves in the food, the art'"whatever was beautiful and sensual. Always keeping things simple and speaking Italian."

Fraser's talents as a travel and food writer are much on display in these two memoirs, which use the author's forbidden love affair as a shared story spine but leave plenty of room for life's other pleasures. In fact, the author's undaunted curiosity about new places, people, and cuisine is the connective thread that carries her (and her readers) through the ups and downs of her story. Like Eat, Pray, Love, Fraser's story is a romantic memoir about a woman going off to heal after a divorce, and capping that journey with an affair. Unlike author Elizabeth Gilbert, Fraser comes home without the happily ever after, at least not in the conventional sense.

Laura Fraser's second memoir ends poignantly with the author still single, visiting her former lover, now divorced and remarried to yet another woman (since Fraser last saw him). The scene takes place at the Professor's hospital bedside, a few weeks before his death. At this point, Fraser's story becomes a celebration of the deep friendship that exists between two grown-ups, a relationship that survived the romance that initially brought them together.

Booklist called All Over the Map "a winning coming-of-middle-age memoir," while Elizabeth Gilbert herself said: "ALL OVER THE MAP makes you want to pack your bags, explore the world, mend your broken heart, and totally reclaim your life."

For memoir writers, Fraser's work demonstrates that, when handled well, having more than one theme in a true-life story only deepens and enriches the reader's experience.

Visit my website for more inspiration and advice on the craft of memoir writing.

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