Friday, July 13, 2012

The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve (1998 Shortlist)

In The Weight of WaterAnita Shreve tells a story of pain, jealousy, and passion. Her characters and their closest relationships--with siblings, with partners--are trapped in isolated and claustrophobic spaces. Shreve tells the story of the murders of two Norwegian immigrant women on Smuttynose Island off the coast of New Hampshire in the late 19th century. She explores the 19th Century events in the context of a contemporary photographer's trip to the island to capture the location for a magazine story about the killings. The photographer travels to the island in a small sailboat with her husband, daughter, brother-in-law and his girlfriend. In the course of her research for the photo-shoot, she happens upon a previously unknown document, a letter from the one woman in the family who survived the killings. Shreve alternates sections of this letter, which describes what led up to the murders and what happened on the night they occurred, with the main structure of the book which moves fluidly between the interactions among the family of the photographer and the details of the history of the murder as it was revealed in the trial. In this way, Shreve allows the painful unfolding of events in the two different eras to play out alongside one another.
The book is well-written, with effective pacing and moving detail, but the writing is not, in the end, remarkable. I enjoyed the book, I'm glad to have read it and would recommend it, but it never took my breath away. If three and a half stars were an option, that would be my true rating.

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