Fiction – hardcover; Little, Brown; 304 pages; 2007.
When this advanced readers’ copy of Anita Shreve’s soon-to-be-published Body Surfing thudded through my mail box (courtesy of a blog friend and not the publisher) I was — to be perfectly frank — just a little excited. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I am an Anita Shreve fan. Not only does this American author produce quality fiction, she’s not afraid to experiment and go off in different directions without losing the very essence of what makes her a great writer: she knows how to spin an entertaining, often emotional, yarn without sacrificing plot or character.
Body Surfing is a welcome return to form after the disappointment of her previous novel, A Wedding in December, in which the pacing was thrown off kilter by two narratives that did not particularly compliment one another.
But in this latest addition to Shreve’s ever-expanding body of work (this is her 13th novel) the author has ditched her preference for dual narratives and stuck to one simple, and very solid, storyline.
Set on the New Hampshire coast (a favourite, if somewhat predictable, Shreve setting) over the space of three years, Body Surfing is told through the eyes of 29-year-old Sydney, who has already been once divorced and once widowed. In a seaside cottage (the same one that features in The Pilot’s Wife and Sea Glass) owned by the well-heeled Mr and Mrs Edwards she takes a summer job as a tutor to their “slow” 18-year-old daughter, Julie.
When the Edwards’ two 30-something sons, Ben and Jeff, drop by for a weekend escape, Sydney feels that she has upset the family’s equilibrium. Is she a maid, a tutor or a friend? She suspects that both sons have romantic feelings for her, but because she is still grieving for her second husband, she is not particularly keen on pursuing a third marriage… or is she?
To say anything else would spoil the twists and turns and unexpected heart-in-the-mouth surprises that this book dishes up. As ever, the language is smooth and lyrical, although I tend to think Shreve is a little heavy-handed when it comes to sub-clauses — she has a penchant for riddling her sentences with them.
But this, fortunately, does not detract from the story, nor the wonderful characterisation, and the extraordinary feel of time and place that Body Surfing evokes. Fans of Shreve’s work will not be disappointed with this one, and I rather suspect that she will acquire a whole host of new ones to boot.