Laura Fraser is a travel junkie who has had the great fortune to find in this addition a niche for her writing talents. But it hasn’t come easy; she admits that after her first well-received book, An Italian Affair, “it was hard to come up with an idea that people in the book world thought would be successful.” So when she occasionally gets a call to “do a quick story about bicycling in Provence,” she correctly identifies it as “one of those moments when you scrub and scrub and then a fairy godmother appears and waves her magic wand.” All Over the Map is a collection of visits from her fairy godmother.
In one episode, we find Fraser in Samoa researching the mysterious realm of the
fa’afafine, or transsexuals. Locally they are known as “aunties” and have a place, if not always a respected one, in the culture. One of their sorrows is falling in love with men who invariably leave them and not ever being able to have a real husband and children; Laura opines that, “I’m beginning to identify too closely with these fa’fafine.” Her sojourn in the free-loving culture of Samoa ends badly
- with an attempted assault by an enthusiastic Samoan on her all-too-feminine and very inebriated self – but Fraser tells it like it is: “I am an idiot, I am a mess.” Fortunately, she can go home again but is soon off once more on another assignment, this time to write a prison story in Texas. Or to uncover the secret of Zen meditation in Marin County.
But, she admits, her favorite place to be is Italy. It is there that she met (in her last book) the Professor, her European amour who taught her to do nothing – the art of
far niente. He also threw a net of love and attraction over her in which she is obviously still caught. Though there have been others, even Evan whom she was
that close to marrying, the Professor is like the Dark Gentleman on the sidelines, even when he says he has found someone else. And though he says it, there are those alluring chance meetings, those occasional bittersweet emails…. Yet Fraser admits that “having a part-time international lover was a temporary solution.”
This book is a paean to the strong-minded middle-aged woman who can admit her failings and insecurities and rock on. Despite her own inner demons, Laura still has the heart and will to write about, and present to the world, the more obvious plights of others – the raped women of Rwanda, for example. The pain in her heart requires her to reunite with lost pieces of herself, and she goes all over the map gathering them up. We readers are thankful that she has not fully reconstructed the puzzle yet, because it means we can expect further writings from this anti-heroine with a suitcase and a laptop.