Abacus, Anita Shreve, Author, Book review, Fiction, general, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting, USA

‘Strange Fits of Passion’ by Anita Shreve


Fiction – paperback; Abacus; 368 pages; 2002.

Anita Shreve takes an old plot — a woman on the run from an abusive husband — and tells it in a fresh, engaging manner in this entertaining and moving novel.

Told through the eyes of an investigative reporter, the story is built up as a series of “interviews” as she goes about her research for a magazine article on a crime committed by a young woman some 20 years earlier. This lends the story a strange kind of authenticity, blending as it does the line between fiction and reportage. Shreve uses this to her advantage, rendering Strange Fits of Passion with an emotional impact that would be much less effective if told in a more traditional plot-driven way.

Through these “interviews”, we learn that Maureen English, a young and impressionable rookie reporter, fell in love with a senior journalist with whom she later married. On the surface it looked like the perfect relationship, but Maureen soon realised that her new husband was a violent man with a raging temper. She decided to flee, taking their baby daughter with her.

Moving to a small Maine fishing town, she rented an isolated house and tried to begin life anew under an assumed identity. As she settled into her new existence and fended off the prying townsfolk, Maureen began to feel the healing affect of time and distance. But then she discovered that the past has a strange way of catching up with the future . . .

All in all, Shreve has turned a predictable storyline on its head and given voice to the shame and agony of domestic violence in a highly original way. Quick to read, this is a superb novel to devour in bed or in front of the fire on a wet day.

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