“A Map of Tulsa” by Benjamin Lytal

“A Map of Tulsa” by Benjamin Lytal  (2013) – 256 pages


Once in a while a novel comes along which is highly lauded by the critics yet falls totally flat for me.  “A Map of Tulsa” by Benjamin Lytal was that kind of novel.

“And when it rose, the morning sun smelled like acorns and dirty jeans.” 

What?!? This must be the first time in recorded history anyone has ever smelled the sun.  Even the language of this novel struck me as pretentious and off-putting, but most of all clumsy.  However to be fair, if you do like the above sentence, you will probably like “A Map of Tulsa”.

The story here wants to be a quirky romance.  However neither of the two main characters, Jim nor Adrienne, is particularly interesting or appealing.  Adrienne is the far-out kooky gal leading our rather straight Jim astray.   As an aspiring poet, Jim wants a more artistic existence.  He is spending the summer in his hometown of Tulsa after returning from his Eastern college.  The year is about 2004; you could call the story ‘the passion of the Millennials’.

The city of Tulsa must also be considered a main character in this novel.    The author fills us in on some of the Big Oil history of Tulsa and waxes poetic about the city.  However most of the scenes in the city are of our couple on the top of  big skyscrapers looking down on the urban landscape or of our couple walking on the deserted streets around the empty office buildings at night.  There are no scenes of Tulsa that project any warmth or color.

“At their roots, the skyscrapers are dumb.”

 For once I agree with the author.

It has been a long time since I’ve encountered dialogue as wooden and stilted as that in “A Map of Tulsa”.  The awkward wording throughout the novel is perhaps the main reason the scenes and the characters come across as murky.

After reading all the enthusiastic reviews of “The Map of Tulsa”, I keep thinking there must be something that I missed.  However I can’t figure out what it is.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Well, Tony, you do read some interesting books I have never heard of. I’m not keen on the imagery here. Sun and dirty jeans?

    So I’ll skip this one.


    • Hi Kat,
      “A Map of Tulsa” has gotten more than its share of press lately with positive reviews in the NY Times, LA Times, and Washington Post. I know one reviewer called it “The Great Gatsby” for the millennial generation”. I don’t think so.


  2. A lot of people with a MFA end up writing books with such weird images. I’d rather an author sticks to the usual than trying for effect and miss the point.


    • Hi Caroline,
      For the example I used above, I would have been fine with “The morning smelled like acorns and dirty jeans’. For some reason putting the word ‘sun’ in there was off putting for me.


  3. Posted by acommonreaderuk on May 8, 2013 at 7:13 AM

    I am always surprised how many Penguin releases turn out to be duds. I expect more from this publisher and am often disappointed


    • In most cases I don’t notice the publisher unless it is NYRB. Now I do see the little Penguin on the cover of “A Map of Tulsa”.


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