Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve is the story of Jean, a woman who is doing a photo shoot on the island of Smuttynose, off the coast of New Hampshire. What intrigues Jean and her editor about Smuttynose are the murders that were committed there in 1873. At that time, according to Shreve, only one family lived on Smuttynose, but the family included quite a few people. The house belonged to Maren and her husband, John, but John's brother, Maren's brother, Maren's sister and her sister in law were all living in the same very small home.
Shreve cleverly mirrors the tight quarters of the house in modern times by having Jean, her husband, her daughter, her brother in law, and his new girlfriend visit the island on a 41 foot sailboat, where they stayed for the duration of their trip.
In 1873, Maren's sister and sister in law were killed one night while the men were off the island. Maren escaped by hiding in the rocks near the ocean. A man who had stayed with the family as a lodger was accused of the crime, and was executed despite proclaiming his innocence. Shreve takes some liberties with recreating the crime, which I'll discuss more on my Spoilers Page, because I'm a little critical of her choices, but don't want to spoil the story for anyone who is still interested.
Meanwhile, on the boat, Jean begins to suspect that her brother in law's girlfriend may have more of a connection to her husband than anyone has revealed to her.
All told, this should make a great story. For some reason, it didn't. I listened to the book in audio form, and as much as I sometimes rave about how the reader makes the book, this time I have to wonder if the reader didn't do the book a disservice. The story is told primarily through the voices of Maren and Jean. Maren uses very stilted language because she is supposed to be a Norwegian immigrant in the 19th century. It is less clear why Shreve chose to give Jean such a pretentious voice. Maybe it is that she is married to a poet, and wants to appear to be highly educated at every opportunity. I think that if Jean had used a more conversational or friendly tone, the story might have been more interesting, and Jean would have been more sympathetic. As it is, Jean and Maren are very similar in the lack of empathy that the reader feels for them.
Well, I can't love them all. At least that's one more off my list for the Off the Shelf Challenge.
In Other News, the Man Booker Shortlist was announced yesterday. The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin is still in the running!
Next Up On CD: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Still Reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. I am really liking this book, and it's crazy that it is taking me so long to read it. I'm torn between wanting to rush to see what happens next, and wanting to slow down and make it last longer.