Anita Shreve

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Note: We have two different reviews for A Wedding in December.
Often our reviewers have similar opinions on books, but every once in awhile they disagree, as in this case..

"A Wedding in December"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky DEC 1, 2005)

With her new book, A Wedding in December, Anita Shreve once again demonstrates her skill at exploring the depths of love, heartache, guilt, and despair. This time, Shreve focuses on the wedding of Bridget and Bill, a pair of high school sweethearts who rediscover one another after spending many years apart. Bridget is battling breast cancer, and this wedding is a testament to the couple's fervent hope that Bridget will somehow be able to beat the odds. Coming together to celebrate this occasion are some of the bride and groom's former classmates from their years at Kidd Academy in Maine back in the seventies.

The hostess is Nora, a widow who has converted her home in the Berkshires into a fashionable and successful inn. The wedding guests include Harrison, who has always carried a torch for Nora, Jerry, a Wall Street banker and a bit of a blowhard, Agnes, a single woman with a secret, and Rob, a world-renowned concert pianist. The one person who is missing is Stephen, a talented athlete and popular student who died tragically twenty-seven years ago.

A Wedding in December gives us a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of Harrison, Agnes, and Bridget. We learn about Harrison's discontent with his marriage and his longing for Nora that has not abated with the passing years. Agnes thinks with some regret about the clandestine affair that she has been conducting with a married man for the last twenty-six years. Bridget prays that she will be well enough to enjoy life with her new husband and her teenaged son, Matt.

Adding to the narrative's poignancy is the transcript of a story that Agnes has been writing about the survivors of a horrendous and tragic explosion that occurred in Halifax Harbor back in 1917. Agnes's protagonist is a twenty-seven year old eye surgeon named Innes Finch who is in Halifax to complete his medical training. Shortly after he arrives, Innes falls in love with his mentor's daughter, Hazel, who is engaged to another man. When Halifax Harbor suddenly explodes, the death and devastation that ensue alter the course of Finch and Hazel's lives forever. Creating this story is cathartic for Agnes, since she knows in her heart that she cannot control the direction that her own love affair will take.

Shreve's characters ponder a question that is more relevant than ever in this age of terror and uncertainly: Should we selfishly seek to make ourselves happy, even if we hurt others in the process? Or should we try to be content with a "good enough" life that may not be as exciting and fulfilling as we might wish? I have always admired Shreve's thoughtfulness, her vivid word pictures that capture the beauty of nature at its most splendid, and her compassion for the human condition. A Wedding in December is a heartfelt and moving novel about the ties that bind us and keep us apart.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 130 reviews

 

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"A Wedding in December"

"In his jacket and dress shoes, Harrison walked out into the snow. Should anyone be looking from an upstairs window, he was a man who'd left a briefcase in his car. It couldn't wait until morning. What Harrison couldn't wait for was the medicinal air, the pinging frost on his face. He felt his vision clearing. The cold air punished his lungs. Nora had been right when she'd spoken of the stick and the pond, the muck disturbed and eddying up into the water. It had been dangerous to come here, he who had avoided danger for years."

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 12, 2005)

When Anita Shreve is good, she's very, very good, and when she's not good, she is boring. A few of my friends have really enjoyed this novel, and I value their opinions, so perhaps I am in the minority when I say I found A Wedding in December to be, at best, a ho-hum read filled with tired metaphors. Set in a post 9/11 America with the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts as a backdrop, seven former classmates, all graduates of Maine's preppy Kidd Academy, reunite for a weekend. The occasion is an intimate wedding hosted by Nora, one of the original group members, who owns a quaint bed and breakfast. Bill and Bridget, the honored couple, were sweethearts thirty years before but married other people. Now they hope for a second shot at happiness, (against some serious odds), and want to share this special time with those who knew them when they were in the throes of first love. The group had once been extremely close but, with one or two exceptions, most have not seen each other since high school graduation. There is much unfinished business to be raked-up, adding juice to the plot, including sharp memories of a foreseen tragedy and, consequently, lots of guilt shared by all.

Predictably, there is an abundance of reminiscing, fantasizing and reexamining of lives and goals as the characters discuss past and present and make some interesting discoveries. An emphasis is placed on tragedy - both 9/11 and a devastating disaster which occurred in Halifax Nova Scotia during WWI are brought into play frequently, as is a disaster of another kind, a catastrophic illness. Adultery also plays a big enough role that it might as well have been a character. Ms. Shreve shines no new light on an old theme, however. I did keep feeling that she wanted to make a more profound statement about marital infidelity than the forced denouement she finally delivers. Threads are left hanging and tension is not resolved.

As always the author's characters are likeable but flawed and are limited in their development by multiple storylines. Again, nothing is new other than the mountain setting and post 9/11 world. Oddly, there is a fascinating story within a story developed here, and I found myself much more interested in this narrative than the principal one. I wish we could have gone off on a permanent tangent.

A Wedding in December is not a bad novel - it fulfills all the requisites for a mildly entertaining read. However, there are so many excellent books around, in all genres, that I question the need to waste one's valuable time on the mediocre. I am a fan of the author, and would strongly recommend people read previously written books by this author.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 130 reviews

 

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"Light on Snow"

"I hold my breath and look down into my cup. My father almost never speaks about my mother unless to answer a direct question from me. I clamp my teeth shut and dig my fingernails into my palms. I know if my eyes well up, it will be the last memory he'll allow himself to share with me for some time.

I see a small stone dislodged in a wall, one stone shoved forward until it falls. The other stones shift and settle and try to fill in the space, but still there is a hole through which water, in the form of memory, begins to seep."

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie OCT 12, 2004)

Anita Shreve, a former high school teacher and prize-winning journalist, is best known as a novelist. The Pilot's Wife, All He Ever Wanted, Fortune's Rocks, and The Weight of Water, are some of her books that I have read which have absorbed and moved me. I have been looking forward to Ms. Shreve's latest offering, Light On Snow, and the author does not disappoint with this extremely moving character study. Her astute insight into the gamut of human emotions is demonstrated in this simple story of grief and redemption. Here, two people, a father and his adolescent daughter, crippled by tragic loss, seek a semblance of their past lives in a bizarre event they literally stumble into, which impacts them both profoundly.

Nicky Dillon, now thirty, is the narrator. She reminisces back to the time she was twelve, living alone with her dad in an isolated house in the woods, just outside the town of Shepherd, NH. On a December day, near Christmastime, Robert Dillon's wife, Nicky's mother, and baby Clara were killed in a car crash. Dillon chose Shepherd at random on his drive north with his remaining daughter, from their former home in Westchester, NY, because he could not drive on any longer. His goal was to remove himself as far as possible from society - to find a quiet place with no memories to bury his grief. Nicky, who was in terrible pain also, was faced with leaving the only home she had ever known, her friends and school, stability.

Two years later, on a cold, wintery afternoon in mid-December, Nicky and her father go for their usual late afternoon walk in the forest. The snow is deep enough to make snowshoes necessary. Deep in the woods they find a newborn infant, abandoned in the snow, lying in a sleeping bag. She is wrapped in a bloody towel, umbilical cord still attached. If they had arrived at the scene a little later, the baby girl would have froze to death. Racing to the hospital they are in time to save the child. Both father and daughter are questioned by a very shrewd detective, and the police begin a search for the parents who could be charged with attempted murder, child abandonment and cruelty. Nicky, who has had to mourn alone for two years, desperately wants the baby to live with them. She wants to learn about the mother and what made her abandon her child. How could a woman make such a terrible choice?

There is a fascinating mystery here, but the novel's strength lies in the development of the characters. Twelve-year-old Nicky, on the cusp of young womanhood, is strong and very mature for her age. Perhaps it is the resilience of youth which gives her courage. She is the caretaker, the one who watches out for her father, a former architect who now takes solace in carpentry. Robert Dillon is narcissistic in his grief. By isolating himself, he forces isolation and loneliness on his daughter. Interspersed throughout the narrative are poignant memories of life with Nicky's mother and sister. Her mother will always remain young in Nicky's mind, while her sister grows up, just as she would if she were alive. At one point Nicky speaks of the small cast of characters with whom she frequently communicates - whose lives she remembers daily. "There are four of them in my little playlet: my mother who remains the same age she was when she died and who gives me bits of advice on how to handle my father; Clara, who is three and who is getting a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas; Charlotte, who will do my hair and shop with me for clothes and be my friend; and also the Baby Doris, who might be having a bottle now. Or a nap."  

There is an air of listlessness, hopelessness, throughout much of the novel. But this adds to the credibility. The mood lightens eventually as outside events force change. Ms. Shreve's descriptions of small town New England, many of the novel's secondary characters, and the gorgeous frozen winter landscapes are rich and detailed. Light On Snow does not have a strong plot; instead it is driven by the inner dilemmas of the principal characters and how external forces, almost happenstance, move them toward change. It is a very good book and I do recommend it.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 141 reviews

 



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

*Set in same NH Beach House

Nonfiction:

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About the Author:

Anita ShreveAnita Shreve was born in 1946. She grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts, graduating from Dedham, Massachusetts high school and attended Tufts University.

She began writing fiction while working as a high school teacher. Although one of her first published stories, "Past the Island, Drifting," was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975, Shreve felt she couldn't make a living as a fiction writer so she became a journalist. She traveled to Africa, and spent three years in Kenya, writing articles that appeared in magazines such as Quest, US, and Newsweek. Back in the United States, she turned to raising her children and writing freelance articles for magazines. She expanded a couple of these articles and published her two nonfiction books. When she published her first novel, she gave up journalism and wrote fiction full time. Her novel The Pilot's Wife was selected by the Oprah's Book Club in 1999 and a movie has been adapted from The Weight of Water.

She taught creative writing at Amherst College in the 1990s.

She is married to the man that she met when she was 13. She has two children and three step-children.

She lives in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.

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