I skied to the sea. It was below freezing, but Casco Bay was not frozen. Wolfe’s Neck Park in Freeport is beautiful in all seasons. It was an odd day to come home to read a summer beach book, but Body Surfing by Anita Shreve was a Christmas present (thanks, Diane and Dave!)
Body Surfing is set in New Hampshire, a little farther south down the coast from Maine. It is the fourth novel Anita Shreve has set in the same house. The author has a summer house in Maine and often writes about WASPy New England families in troubled relationships.
Fortune’s Rocks is the name of Shreve’s fictional seaside town, and the title of the first book in the loosely connected series. The first novel is set in the turn of the 19th century. In 2004 I was living in London, and Fortune’s Rocks had been left on a bookshelf like flotsam and jetsam. The historical novel is well written, but I could not stomach the story: a 15-year-old girl falls for a married middle aged doctor. It is true love with tragic consequences and too creepy for me.
Shreve jumps a century ahead in The Pilot’s Wife. The house is now occupied by a school teacher, a commercial pilot and their teenaged daughter. In the opening scene, we learn that the pilot died in an explosion flying to the US from London. I was especially interested in this novel because my plane to London in 1988 never made it to New York City. It exploded over Lockerbie. The Pilot’s Wife is a gripping page turner in which the widow uncovers startling secrets about her husband.
The final occupants of the doomed house are an architect and his wife who summer by the sea. They have hired a 29-year-old widow, Sydney Sklar, to tutor their “slow” eighteen-year-old daughter. The 30-something brothers vie for Sydney’s affections. It sounds like a sappy romance novel, only the characters aren’t who they seem to be. Given the house’s history, you know this isn’t going to be a sunny story despite the summer beachside setting. Body Surfing is not only the title but also the central metaphor.
Shreve is a master of character detail. Like in a mystery novel, everyday items reveal secret stories. For example Sydney snoops in her employers’ bedroom and is surprised to find a small full-sized bed where a king bed could easily fit. Shreve’s writing is full of evocative descriptions. You’ll hear the roar of the surf, taste the salt on your tongue and feel the itch of sand in your swimsuit. Shreve takes the reader for a ride.
Unfortunately the realism of the details are at odds with the outrageous situations. Fate is over-stacked for tragedy, especially in one house. It is still a fun plot line to have one house running through several books. The setting becomes a character into itself, and I liked the quirky home better than its occupants. I have yet to read Sea Glass, another novel set at the ill-fated beach house. It was a happy coincidence that I ended up reading three connected novels; they do not need to be read in sequence.
Another setting I like to revisit is Freeport for cross-country skiing. Yes, there is more to Freeport than outlet shops. Five minutes away from the bustling town center is Pettingill Farm. The 1810 farmhouse is set on 140 acres by the mouth of the Harraseeket River where it opens onto Casco Bay. It’s a salt-water farm, including the fields to the estuary mudflats for clamming. Sadly, the Freeport Historical Society does not allow dogs anymore, so Stella had to stay home.
ANOTHER snow day today.
Blog Watch: A Book a Week (in my sidebar) reviewed the four related Shreve novels here.
Blog Talk: For any of you locals, I’ll be giving a talk for the Five Rivers Arts Alliance on February 9th about using the internet to market art. I’ll be sharing my two-year experience of blogging. The Frontier is a fun café/theater in Brunswick. Stop by and say hi after the talk if you can come. Details:
FEBRUARY 9, 6pm. FIVE RIVERS ARTS ALLIANCE MEMBERS MEETING will address “E-Commerce for Artists” at Frontier, 14 Maine St, Brunswick. The event will feature Five Rivers members and artists who will show how they use their websites and blogs to promote and sell their work. Presenters include Bath painter Sarah Greenier, Brunswick author and artist Sarah Laurence, and glassblowers Terrill & Charlie Jenkins of Tandem Glass, Dresden. Free for Five Rivers members; $5 for non-members. To reserve a spot, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact:www.fiveriversartsalliance.org.