Laura Rider's Masterpiece is a delight--and an unexpected one at that. For those of you who know Jane Hamilton's previous works, such as Map of the World, this novel represents a departure in tone and perspective. You'll find yourself laughing more than crying with this novel. This book is set in the Midwest. The three main characters are Laura Rider, who runs a successful nursery, her husband, who helps with the nursery and is what you would call a free spirit, and an NPR radio host named Jenna. The book follows how the three characters affect one another intentionally and unintentionally. Hamilton does a great job creating the characters and making them believable. Her portrayal of Jenna is especially keen. She epitomizes what I, an avid NPR listener, imagine an NPR commentator is. I found myself empathizing with all three characters. Although I have to say the character of Laura Rider was my favorite. Map of the World, in contrast, was a powerful novel about a school nurse living in the Midwest who is falsely accused of sexually abusing a student. A tragic accident also occurs on her dairy farm. The novel describes the effects this accusation as well as the accident have the protagonist and her family. My admiration for Hamilton’s skills grew with Laura Rider’s Masterpiece. Even though it is not gut-wrenchingly tragic as Map of the World is, Laura Rider’s Masterpiece is not brain candy. Hamilton’s lighter side is not empty. The book is filled with insights and comments about marriage, self-fulfillment, self-delusion, and societal definitions of success. I hope that Jane Hamilton does not think that Laura Rider’s Masterpiece is her masterpiece. Selfishly, I want her to keep writing. I don’t want her to think she is done.
Laura and Charlie Rider own and run Prairie Wind Farm in rural Wisconsin, with Laura ruling and delegating, and Charlie obliging along. While she is planting and pruning, Laura Rider listens to Jenna Faroli of the famous Jenna Faroli Radio Show and dreams of writing a romance novel. She envisions Jenna simultaneously as a teacher, a confidante, and the heroine of her book. Charlie's chance encounter with Jenna on the side of the road is the turning point, and Laura sees it as a chance to understand … more