Life can be a series of forked roads that keep us thinking, What would I be now if I had gone that other way instead?
In Benjamin Lytal’s debut novel A Map of Tulsa, Jim Praley is returning home from his first year of college in New York. He becomes infatuated with Adrienne, the daughter of a wealthy man, and teaches her to paint while she shows him the city he grew up in.
It's a journey Lytal feels he took on while writing about his hometown. He says his protagonist learns that sometimes we can understand people and places better when we return to them years later.
"In Tulsa growing up, it was hard to figure out where the action was, especially when you're a teenager and living with your parents and still exploring your freedoms," he says. "You might not know what's going on in your own hometown, so I wanted to write a novel about a guy who's discovering all of that, not in New York or L.A., or the places where so many novels are set, but in Tulsa."
At the same time that he was honoring his hometown by setting his novel there, Lytal says he felt strange writing about a city he hadn't lived in for years. He wrote the story while living in Brooklyn, and says he often took liberties with the city's geography and other details.
"Then flying there and being in the back of a minivan with my parents, looking at the skyline that I had sort of romanticized and seeing that it was just regular normal life...I wondered what right did I have to impose my imagination on this very real city?" he says.
That's why he says he set the book in the 1990s - a Tulsa more familiar to Lytal. Still the novel is infused with Lytal's real-life exploration of the meaning of home.
Lytal says he still considers Tulsa home - after all, his parents and a younger brother still live there. But he says there are limits and "after a week or so in Tulsa, I'm ready to go home, which is always somewhere else."
That's an issue he feels many people have these days.
"One of the things I wanted to do in this novel is about having too much choice as to where to live," Lytal says. "It's a privilege to have choice as to where to live, I know that, but it can also be a dilemma, and I think that nowadays there's a little bit more mobility, there's a little bit more travel, and I didn't know if anybody was writing enough about that."
Lytal recently spoke at an event at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee.