A Map of Tulsa
Benjamin Lytal
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Buy *A Map of Tulsa* by Benjamin Lytalonline

A Map of Tulsa
Benjamin Lytal
272 pages
March 2013
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Taking one of literature's most-proven plotlines--the coming-of-age love story--and giving it a tender, minimalist twist, Lytal’s low-key story tells of Tulsa native Jim Praley, who works as a book editor in New York and returns to his native city on the trail of beautiful Adrienne Booker, an aristocratic painter and singer. Lytal follows Jim’s passionate love affair with Adrienne and the terrible accident which leaves Jim questioning many of the assumptions he’s made about his life so far.

In a story that is stranger than its summary, Lytal’s prose style is remarkably quiet for such a raw tale, and for a book that touches on so many deep and barely-controlled passions. There's no great spark between Jim and Adrienne and rarely any heat, more a sort of languid pathway toward true love. Far from New York City to the silence of Midwestern suburban front yards, Jim washes right up to the roots of the Tulsa skyscrapers that float like “magnificent holograms.”

Controlled by Adriane and her aunt Lydie, who manages the Booker family’s vast oil wealth, Jim often feels he’s running through "the center of the universe,” reacting more with resignation than furor to Adrienne’s willful escapades. Whether drunk or high, their instant attraction and easy intimacy unfolds in Adrienne’s glamorous downtown penthouse. Passionately ensconced in her "concrete canyon," Adrienne pulls the city “inside out for Jim,” and many passages highlight their talk about love, fate and alternative destinies. They fit together so perfectly that Jim could never anticipate such an abrupt estrangement.

Lytal’s story is characterized by a wistful sense of recollection, engaging characters, and the skill with which he embeds them in their community and their landscape. Tulsa itself is like a richly suggestive, powerfully overcomplicated circuit board. As Jim looks down from Adrienne’s penthouse windows and sees Midtown in all of its tiny, glittering detail, he’s struck by how clear it is and how the power worked by the complexity of the city is so intoxicating and seductive. This clearly mirrors Jim and Adrienne's own seductiveness; it is that same allure that causes them to pull apart in adversity rather than come together in solution.

As Jim recounts the story to the reader, he remains at the mercy of the stubborn swell of recollections and Adrienne’s tenuous grasp on reality as her life zigzags without regard to the boundaries of her family, friends and lovers. When he gets the bad news from Lydie that Adrienne has been hurt in a motorcycle accident, he learns to trust in his memories and the distant siren call of his one great love. Returning penniless from New York to Tulsa to be by her bedside, it is here in the balance of long nights that Jim finally gets a sense of wayfaring endurance and delicate luck.

His poetic prose reflecting love in deep crisis, the author paints Jim and Adrienne's affair on his unique Midwestern canvas, one that is infused with great beauty as well as a surprising bohemianism. Perhaps the book is not so much about the largest passions of the human experience but about a man who looks at his unfolding career and his longtime lover and feels nothing but emptiness, vague confusion, and an obligation to love her no matter the cost.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2013

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