All Over the Map
Author Laura Fraser has just celebrated her fortieth birthday and is attending a college reunion. While observing the range of accomplishments that have been accumulated over the years by her former classmates—and mentally comparing herself with them—a friend shares with Laura the idea of a Manhattan trifecta: you can, over the course of your life, have the perfect relationship, the perfect job, and the perfect apartment. Just not all at once. Laura realizes that she has a great apartment and a great job, but there is no great man in her life and she wants to change that.
All Over the Map is a like a less self-indulgent Eat, Pray, Love. Laura Fraser is a freelance writer who travels frequently for her work. In her previous book, An Italian Affair, she wrote about the breakup of her marriage and finding solace in an Italian romance—a cleansing, hedonistic break. In All Over the Map, Laura is in her forties and trying to find balance in her life. The book chronicles several years while she tries her hand at settling down, all while traveling frequently on assignment.
For Laura, the idea of what constitutes "settling down" changes gradually over the duration of the book. Initially, she thinks that she wants a husband and children, but after a series of half-hearted romances, and as her fertility wanes, she realizes that she'd rather find a place to settle herself as an individual, while remaining close to a circle of friends. You can feel her mood lightening as she shifts from an intense focus on finding a man and starting a family, to being a happy woman with a house in Mexico in a town full of artists and divorcees.
Laura Fraser is a frequent contributor to glossy women's magazines, and knows how to craft a gripping sentence. While All Over the Map could be considered a beach read, there are darker and more complex moments in the book. Among the most engrossing chapters are when Laura describes her travel to Italy and Samoa to interview sex workers for articles. These chapters begin as typical travel pieces, singing the beauty of these locations, and end up darker and more menacing. The men and women involved in the sex trade that Laura speaks to are full of anger, fear, and desire, and dealing with women's new roles as breadwinners around the globe while living in largely paternalistic societies. These chapters have really meaty implications about the shifting role of women around the world, and come at a point in Laura's life where she's struggling to become a wife and mother. It's an interesting contrast and comparison, though one Laura doesn't choose to explore.
Ultimately, the book shifts back to Laura's story and the happiness she's able to find for herself. It's a quick read with interesting implications about female vulnerability and independence around the globe. Buy it if you'd like a light, feminist read with some intellectual heft.