David Abrams's Reviews > The Weight of Water

The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve
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Sep 27, 10


Anita Shreve (author of the much-touted "The Pilot’s Wife") has done the near-impossible in "The Weight of Water." She has written two tragic tales, separated by more than 100 years, and coiled them seamlessly into one compelling narrative. This is one of the most emotional, provocative and exciting novels I’ve read in a long time. For those who dismissed "The Pilot’s Wife" with a shrug, this is THE Shreve novel to search out at the local bookstore. "The Weight of Water" is a much better crafted work than the more recent Oprah pick.

In the novel, a photojournalist named Jean gets an assignment to do a photo essay on a 100-year-old double-murder that happened on the Isles of Shoals, a tiny group of islands off the coast of New Hampshire. Jean brings along her poet husband, her five-year-old daughter, her brother-in-law and his new girlfriend. They all climb aboard an old sailboat and head out for the barren islands. Turmoil brews as quick as afternoon storm clouds. Jean and her husband Thomas have a strained marriage, full of jealousy and stony silences; Rich, Thomas’ brother, has a physically passionate relationship with his girlfriend, but their relationship also shows signs of trouble when she starts to flirt with Thomas; then there’s the volatile relationship between Thomas and Rich. Let's just say, it’s a far cry from the Love Boat.

Shreve skillfully gets the reader involved in the soap opera when, in the first few pages, Jean and Rich take a trip onto the island to photograph the murder scene. The attraction and tension between them is as palpable as the briny sea air.

Interwoven with the modern story is the saga of what happened on the island in 1873 when two women were brutally murdered with an ax. This part of the novel, told in a memoir by another woman who hid in a cave after the murders, is even more intense than Jean’s marital woes. I don’t want to spoil any of the delicious narrative surprises Shreve has in store, so I’ll just say that there’s insanity, jealousy and incest at work on the island in 1873—problems that continue to resonate and haunt characters 100 years later.

As she proved in "The Pilot’s Wife," Shreve has a sure touch when it comes to accurate, detailed descriptions. With an admirable economy of words, she gets us right under the skin of the characters. Here’s Jean’s lament from the opening pages of the novel: "Sometimes I think that if it were possible to tell a story often enough to make the hurt ease up, to make the words slide down my arms and away from me like water, I would tell that story a thousand times."

Fortunately for us, we are given the story and all of its pain and passion.

(As an aside, Shreve’s descriptions of Smuttynose Island and the rest of the Isles of Shoals were so graphic and interesting, that I immediately searched the Internet for photos of the area. I found one site [though there may be more] that had a collection of beautiful images: http://www.perpublisher.com/shoals.html)
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message 1: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo WoW . Excellent review !!! I do love her writing for all the points you have taken the time to make !


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