Geographies of the Heart

A Novel

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Pub Date 18 Jan 2022 | Archive Date Not set

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Sarah Macmillan always puts family first, but she can’t quite stretch her arms wide enough to hold on to everyone as they all age: her career-minded, inattentive younger sister, Glennie; their grandparents, who are slowly fading; or a pregnancy Sarah desperately wanted. But it’s her tumultuous relationship with Glennie that makes Sarah feel the loneliest. She’d always believed that their relationship was foundational, even unbreakable. Though blessed with a happy marriage to Al, whose compassion and humor she admires, Sarah shoulders both caregiving and loss largely alone and grows bitter about Glennie’s absences, until one decision forces them all to decide what family means—and who is family. Narrated by the chorus of their three voices, this elegantly told and deeply moving novel examines the pull of tradition, the power of legacies, the importance of forgiveness, and the fertile but fragile ground that is family, the first geography to shape our hearts.

Sarah Macmillan always puts family first, but she can’t quite stretch her arms wide enough to hold on to everyone as they all age: her career-minded, inattentive younger sister, Glennie; their...

A Note From the Publisher

Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, JMWW, Mud Season Review, Belmont Story Review, Hypertext Magazine, and more. Her story collection, TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, won the fourth annual Phillip H. McMath Book Award, Silver in the
Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, and was a Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book. Her debut novel, GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, was inspired by three stories in her collection. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003.

Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, JMWW, Mud...

Advance Praise

Finalist, Next Generation Indie Awards, General Fiction (70,000-100,000 words)

“…gracefully wrought….outstanding….”—RAIN TAXI

"...beautiful....This novel of four generations is rich in nuance and its warmth and generosity leave a lasting impression."—Southern Literary Review

"...tender...[a] mature depiction of love and sisterhood...Geographies of the Heart is a piercing novel populated by absorbing legacies and instances of forgiveness"—Foreword Reviews

“…Summie writes with admirable nuance.” —Publishers Weekly

"An accomplished, confident debut, with complex characters you'll be rooting for."—J. Ryan Stradal, bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest and The Lager Queen of Minnesota

“…a compelling, complex novel about an ordinary family told in three voices that will capture your heart. It’s one of the best novels I’ve read in years.”—Hungry For Good Books

"Geographies of the Heart is both riveting and moving, its characters rendered with painstaking and loving attention. I got to know them very well, and the author made me care about them. Caitlin Hamilton Summie is not afraid to go deep, to explore the fears and emotions most of us spend so much time trying to conceal. I loved this novel. I only wish there were more like it."—Steve Yarbrough, author of The Unmade World

“Years of secrets, resentments, and words left unspoken force a family to examine the fragile complexities of the heart. A tender yet powerful journey, where bitterness gives way to the determination it takes to stitch lives back together.”—Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

“Caitlin Hamilton Summie writes like waves cross large oceans. Words, sentences, chapters and stories build with a complexity of wind, current, and underground tectonic force until they crash toward their resolution onshore. Her debut novel, Geographies of the Heart, is a new force of nature that readers of Summie’s work will love. Intense, searching, intimate in the moment and sweeping in its range, this novel is an oceans-wide meditation on the inseparability of family, and the redemption of loss.”—Andrew Krivak, author of The Bear

Finalist, Next Generation Indie Awards, General Fiction (70,000-100,000 words)

“…gracefully wrought….outstanding….”—RAIN TAXI

"...beautiful....This novel of four generations is rich in nuance and its...

Marketing Plan

She is the award-winning author of TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS. Three stories in that collection inspired the novel and are included in the novel. Praise for the collection includes the following:

Winner, Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Book Award

Silver Winner, Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards for Short Stories

Featured in The Millions Most-Anticipated The Great Second-Half 2017 Book Preview

A Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book for June 2018

She is the award-winning author of TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS. Three stories in that collection inspired the novel and are included in the novel. Praise for the collection includes the following:


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Featured Reviews

GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART is an elegant and tender story that revolves around what it means to be a family. I enjoyed how the author rotates among view points and captures the joy and beauty in everyday moments. The story also moves deftly across time. Sarah's bonds with her husband and sister are immediately relatable and I found myself pulling for these characters.

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The highest praise I can give to a writer is to say they have the gift to make seemingly ordinary characters and the circumstances of their lives feel extraordinary. It’s extraordinary because Caitlin Hamilton Summie doesn’t just take us to the “geographies” of her character’s hearts, but to similar places in our own hearts. She takes us to places where we know grief, loss, fear of loss, love. She takes you to that special place in your heart reserved for family, that certain place where we feel the memories, the beautiful ones like how much we loved our grandparents , or how close we used to be with our sister, and the hard ones when we drift apart because we don’t understand each other.

One of the most poignant lines for me in the novel is “He was my brother, Daddy, in my heart. “ Rather than talk about what happens in this story, I’ll just say that I loved these characters because they were my family in my heart. Highly recommended to those who enjoyed the author’s award winning story collection, [book:To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts|34913559] as you’ll meet familiar characters here. I also recommend it anyone who wants to read a beautifully written and relatable story that will take them to the “geographies” of their own heart .

I received an advanced copy of this book from Fomite Press through NetGalley.

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A little over four years ago, I read Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts, which I loved. In the years since, I’ve read several of her short stories that I’ve hunted down online. There’s something about the way she writes, the stories she shares that pulls me in completely, so much so that it fully comes alive for me. I can feel it all, see it all, and even after I’ve read the last word of the last sentence, I know these are people who I will remember, and not as characters in a story, but as people I know and feel invested in.

Vignettes of a family that changes over the years, and the memories gathered over those years shared by them. At the heart of this is Sarah MacMillan, who considers the traditions of her family, her parents, her grandparents, as sacred. Growing up along with her sister, Glennie, who becomes a doctor, Sarah feels the distance increasing as they begin their own lives. Sarah marries, and their grandparents begin to need more assistance, Sarah’s husband Al steps in to help, even as Glennie steps even further away.

’Time changes things slowly at first, like the seasons. The leaves turn yellow, the color deepens, and then suddenly some are red, and fall arrives, as if overnight. I’ve decided that’s how age works. First, there is a gray hair, a wrinkle, a dull ache in one’s joints, but the changes are small and easy to accommodate.’

There’s nothing extraordinary that happens, moments we can all relate to in one way or another, people in our families or our lives that we can recognize similar quirks or traits. Holding on to ancient grievances, memories of unfairness, or of feeling marginalized. Love, family, friends, the bond of family, the fractious nature of siblings, children, change, loss, regrets, and more - the things that are part of life. What is extraordinary is the way this story wove its way into my heart that felt so relatable, so real and yet so remarkably lovely even when my heart was breaking.

The gifts we inherit from family - the tangible gifts, along with traits, love, as well as the pain inflicted along with the love and memories over the years - are the legacy we pass on to others. And so it goes...and so it goes.

Pub Date: 18 Jan 2022

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Fomite Press
#GeographiesoftheHeart #NetGalley

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As I started <b> Geographies of the Heart</b> by Caitlin Summie Hamilton I was a little afraid of being disappointed.   Afterall I'd been waiting for this book since July 2017 when I'd read and loved <i>To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts</i>, her collection of short stories.  In my review of that book I wrote <i>"....I'd be hard pressed to select a favourite from among the ten stories......although I'd be lying if I didn't admit to a flicker of recognition and excitement each time Sarah and her family made a reappearance."</i>      Perhaps other readers must have felt that special bond with Sarah and her family too as Geographies of the Heart is centred around them.

So was I disappointed?    Not in the least!   I was a fool to be concerned.   Caitlin created these characters so well initially I'm sure they became like family to her.    She's nurtured and shaped them these past years so I should have known they'd be safe in her hands.  

Sarah and Glennie are sisters with an uneasy relationship.   As younsters they'd been close, more like friends, but they grew apart allowing a frostiness to settle and harden between them.   Though Sarah was the central character, readers of this novel also get to know Al, her husband, and Glennie.   We are reacquainted with her parents and grandparents, and we're introduced to her daughters Amelia and Beth.

This author has an amazing talent for writing and this beautiful character driven novel had me highlighting passage after passage.    Her characters are far from perfect.  They are flawed but in the most natural and normal way, and in a way that makes them so very real.   They are everyday people dealing with the bonds of family but also the ways in which family ties can come loose.    Her characters were touched by grief in various guises and her words depicted how insidious it can be, how hard to move through and get beyond.    Her charcters were all too aware of their own insecurities and failings but it wasn't all gloom and doom.    There was an appreciation of the little things in life.  The joy of simply living, treating each day as a gift.    And above all there was love.   Despite their differences the sisters loved each other deeply, marriages were strong, and the relationships across the generations were based on love.  So many aspects resonated with me and I found it to be a moving tribute to family.

Thank you Caitlin for working tirelessly to bring these characters alive on the page and in my mind.   Thank you also to Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity and NetGalley for the opportunity of reading this digital ARC in exchange for an honest review which it was my pleasure to provide.

4.5 stars rounded up.

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Sarah Macmillian is the anchor of her family. She is the one who always has time for each member, giving everyone time and attention. She is married to Al, a religion professor at the local college. They have a daughter whom both adore. Sarah has a sister, Glennie, whose career as a doctor is all consuming. Her parents live close by and so do her grandparents. Sarah is the caretaker for everyone, the person who gives time and attention to each person's needs. But who takes care of Sarah?
This novel explores the foundation of our lives, the families that nurture and sustain us but also can serve as the biggest frustration in our lives. Sarah always thought she and Glennie could never be separated, but time and careers and outside obligations have pushed them apart and soon Sarah's main thought when she thinks about Glennie is anger that Glennie doesn't spend the same amount of time with the family that she does. Al is a genial man but as time goes on, life starts to grind him down; his touchstone is Sarah for whom his love is steadfast. As time moves on, the family has to change as the grandparents continue their aging process until they take the next step, death. Sarah must redefine herself to accommodate the changing family dynamics.

This is one of the best novels I've read. The author gets it all, love, resentment, family loyalty, connections, marriages and the work they take, sibling and parental relationships. I was captured from the first pages and could barely tear myself away from the story of Sarah's family. The story feels warm and loving but authentic, showing the weaknesses that can tear at family relationships when the load is unevenly distributed. I read the author's first book, an anthology. Several of those stories find their way into this novel but here the voice is so much stronger, the lessons and power of the family story so much more clearly defined. I hope this book gets the recognition it deserves as it is definitely one of my favorite novels I've read recently. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those who want to understand more about the family relationships that sustain us and tear us apart.

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“‘You cannot write what you want,’ she yelled. ‘It’s not just your story.’ Her voice had a strength then that I had not heard for weeks, a power that made it rise and crack. Who could lay claim to the past? That was what we were arguing about, who would control the way we were remembered.
. . . [ much later]

‘How dare you quote the Bible to me.’ She sat up slowly. ‘I raised you to have opinions,’ she said, ‘but I did not raise you to disagree with me.’ I laughed.”

Sarah and her grandmother, Catherine, are strong-minded women, the kind of women who are often at loggerheads and kind of relish the conflict. But both are also sensitive to hurt, which makes it tricky for the rest of the family. Sarah is always at odds with her younger sister, Glennie, first a medical student and then a OB/GYN doctor.

Summie’s characters are the sort of people that if you met them, you’d feel you know them. In fact, you’d be embarrassed if you met them because you would know them so intimately. She pulls no punches about their shortcomings, but she recognises their strengths and their soft spots, the things that matter most to them.

Sarah is the collector of the family’s stories, not just the happy ones, but the ones people may have been uncomfortable sharing. In spite of her arguments with her grandmother, she adores her and her grandfather. When there was finally an incident which made it obvious they needed more care, she helped her father with the decision.

“Sometimes, Dr. Kline said, life straightens out the wrinkles on its own. He knew a nursing home that had a room. He was on the board. I remember thinking that he sounded like a travel agent talking about a hotel, something small and clean and temporary, and then I realized that was exactly what he was talking about.
. . .
We filled in the nursing home application. Question fifteen. Please list a funeral home.”

The harsh reality. Most chapters are told by or about Sarah, with a handful told by Al and a couple of later ones by her sister Glennie, the doctor. The relationships are tender to the point of rawness, but there is never any doubt about the love. The most difficult connection is between the sisters, although other characters have their own stories.

Al tells the story of Ed, Sarah’s grandpa, and his war veteran buddies who meet for coffee at Larch’s Donut Shop, Larch being another vet. Because Al was the one to tell Ed it was time to stop driving, Al drove him everywhere and became an honorary member of an exclusive club, one where men never talk about the war, but about everything else.

After getting to know these men and gradually learning something of their burdens and the limited time they have left, he now recognises the responsibility Sarah has taken on.

“I understand how Sarah must feel, with each relative passing. It’s hard to be the last one, the keeper of the stories, the memory. But my lord, what a gift.”

Although this is a novel, many chapters could stand on their own as vignettes or slices of life. In fact some have appeared (often in somewhat different forms) as short stories. They are stitched together here much as the treasured family quilt is that Sarah is working on, with squares added by successive generations of women.

I could have done without the last chapter and some of that whole storyline, but I suspect others may disagree. I loved the author’s first book of short stories and I’m very fond of this one. I have to say that when I have to go, I think I’d like it to be something like this.

“[The] doctor had told us that . . . systems would slow and then stop one by one, as if someone were systematically going through a house and shutting off all the lights. I still haven’t gotten over that image.”

Lights out. Thank you and good night.

Thanks to NetGalley and Fomite Press and the author for the preview copy of this wonderful book.

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Geographies of the Heart tells a story about family - the one you are born into and the one you chose for yourself. Sarah and Glennie are two sisters born into the same family, but worlds apart in personality and life choices. Sarah puts family before everything else, while Glennie is endlessly and single-mindedly driven to pursue her passion in life, medicine, and puts it first. Their decisions over the course of the years from 1994 to 2019 shape their lives, and puts a strain on their relationship as Sarah struggles to understand Glennie's choices. Through better and worse, Sarah, Glennie and Sarah's husband Al navigate the joys and trials of life though happy family moments, tragedies and the challenges of everyday life.

The novel is deeply reflective, with insightful observations on how we communicate (or not) with family, how it shapes our identity and the significant role that family history and story-telling plays in our lives. "It's important to know how one's story begins, especially in our family. Stories connect us; words are our banners and flags. We have no crest. We have the twining of our chapters." The novel flows and reads like a series of related short stories, including the perspectives of each of the three primary characters. It is an artistically written piece of emotional and reflective literary fiction, quite unlike anything I have read before. Many thanks to NetGalley and to Suzy Approved Book Tours for providing me with the opportunity to read it.

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Geographies of the Heart is a big all about being a daughter, granddaughter, sister, wife, and mother. Set in MN, the novel details the relationships among the members of the MacMillan family, with a focus on Sarah who decides to quit her job, and her sister Glennie who is a hard-working doctor. While Sarah is caring for her aging grandparents, Glennie is caught up in completing medical school and beginning her career. Special to the story is Al, Sarah's husband, who is not religious, but is a religion professor at the university. Geographies of the Heart is a great read, especially for book discussion groups. This book is meant to be talked about by many.

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“It's about where you came from, she thought. It's about what you know. And you either love that landscape you were born into or hate it and move elsewhere. But it never leaves you, that first geography. That early terrain becomes the rough view of your heart. That place, the weather, the amount of space. It enters your blood."
- Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

As a lifelong Midwesterner, my ears perk up when I hear about a novel set in the Midwest or written by an author with Midwest connections. That's how this novel, told in interconnected short stories, got on my reading radar. It's the emotional story of a three-generation Minneapolis family who share a household and deep relationships. It’s told by three narrators, Sarah, the firstborn daughter, her husband Al, and Glennie, Sarah's younger sister.

Readers get intense glimpses into Sarah and Al's lives: their courtship, their strong and unique bonds with her grandparents in their final stage of life, the ups and downs of their marriage, the joys and sorrows of being parents, their connections to their neighbors, and their struggle to build a relationship with Glennie who is consumed by her career as an OB-GYN to the exclusions of everything and everyone else.

It's a powerful experience when a book comes into your life at the perfect time. I read Geographies of the Heart very early on mornings when anxiety over care options for my elderly father caused insomnia. Reading about Sarah going through similar experiences with her grandparents and then her parents was cathartic, even though this is fiction.

There's much to discuss in these stories, beginning with the quote at the top of my review. This would be an interesting book club title. Many thanks to NetGalley and Fomite Press for the review copy.

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