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Posts Tagged ‘Anita Shreve’

One of the hallmarks of a good novel is that you cannot put it down; and for me, that was the case with Body Surfing by Anita Shreve.

In this novel, Shreve writes in current day with the New Hampshire shore as the backdrop. She studies the lives of her characters falling in love, in treacherous family rivalries, in kindness and resentment, in being lost.  Shreve’s writing is to the point. Nothing is wasted, and her pacing is flawless. She gives you exactly the details that are needed, but the depiction of her characters and their interrelation are what drives the story forward. She’s a writer that many of us could learn from.

In brief, this is the story of a young woman, Sydney, once married, once widowed, who takes on the summer job of tutoring Julie, the daughter of a fairly wealthy couple with a cottage at the shore. She hopes the experience will offer her some healing from her recent loss. Family gatherings soon introduce the couple’s sons, Jeff and Ben, both of whom seem to take an interest in Sydney. The mother, Mrs. Edwards, is immediately resentful; Mr. Edwards, eminently kind and caring, always wants what’s best for everyone. It doesn’t take long before events start to spiral out of control, and Sydney is caught in the intricacies of family relationships which are both hidden and destructive.

I really enjoyed the rapid pace of Body Surfing and how easily I was pulled in to the characters and their complicity. And I appreciated that while Shreve had me emotionally invested in Sydney, Ben, Jeff, Julie and the family, she did so without ripping my heart out. A perfect read for me right now.

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I have read a number of Anita Shreve’s novels – some I have liked quite a bit, and a couple, really not so much. But I found this one, A Wedding in December, to be one of the most enjoyable. I honestly cannot tell if it’s because it’s so very fresh in my mind, or has just grabbed me with its very 3-dimensional characters and a slowly unwinding mystery, but it’s been a fast, entertaining, and absorbing read.

The characters are truly well drawn, but it is the way Shreve has ever-so-subtly introduced a secret, an event, that will weave throughout the book almost revealing itself in a shadow here, a whisper there, until it becomes a riveting focus towards the end of the book that also engaged me. Our characters, Harrison, Nora, Bill, Bridget, Jerry, Rob and Agnes all come with some regrets, their nature revealed gradually at what is both a reunion of friends from a school attended long ago and the wedding of two high-school sweethearts, Bill and Bridget.  She, who is also now fighting cancer,  and Bill met again, having once loved each other and been apart 27 years.

Agnes comes with a long-held secret of her own; Harrison, with regrets and longings. Nora, married to a brilliant poet, created her new life – the conversion of their home in the Berkshires to an inn – after his death, but she, too, has memories of the past and what never was. As the guests arrive and interact, their tales are slowly and quite skillfully told, at the same time dancing around the edge of the subject of their mutual friend – Stephen’s – death so many years ago. When they all become snowbound over the wedding weekend, and with some having too much to drink, many revelations come about.

Within the story of the characters at this event is a second story that Agnes is writing about the Halifax Harbor blast in 1917, killing 2,000 people during WW I. At times, jumping into the life of Innes Finch was disconcerting, and I found myself wanting to get back to the reunion/wedding. At other times, I was more involved with the secondary storyline, with Innes, his feelings for Hazel, and her sister, Louise. Agnes writing this story is also a vehicle for her to help resolve some of her own emotional issues.

A Wedding in December may not be the book that examines the deepest souls of its characters, but it does look quite clearly into how people deal with – or choose not to deal with – regrets and the longings for what might have been. What I liked about this book is that Shreve created characters that I really cared about as well as how things resolved for them. So important in a novel.

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