Anita Shreve writes bestselling novels with intricate storylines that don’t come with a pat ending. If you are looking for a romance novel or chick-lit ending, this may not be the right book for you. However, if you are looking for a beautifully written story that keeps you on your toes for each of the 291 pages, this is a great one to pick up! There are surprises around every corner, and the characters come alive as the story continues.
The story arc in Body Surfing takes place on the shore of New Hampshire – near Portsmouth, and less than an hour from where we live. We live near a beach, and I can easily visualize the sand, waves, and beach houses farther north. Anita Shreve does a beautiful job writing descriptive passages of the characters and their surroundings, and keeps you interested in the passages. The feel of the sand and the pull of the waves pulls you into the story just like the undertow.
Sydney, Body Surfing‘s main character, is a young woman who has been divorced and widowed by age 29. Aside from that identity, she is also a typical New England liberal, with a Jewish father and Unitarian Universalist mother. Sydney was floundering, trying to find her footing after her husband’s death, and agreed to live with the Edwards family for the summer, tutoring their daughter Julie for the SATs. Julie’s mother thinks she will get into top schools, and considers my alma mater a safety school. (hmph) Sydney tutors Julie, but is also looking for her hidden talents, as it is clear from an unbiased eye that she is not gifted academically.
While it would be easy to show Julie as simply “slow”, Shreve draws her out as a naive but yet multifaceted teenager, who wants love, friends, and acceptance. She wants to please her parents, but is torn between that want and the need for independence. Julie’s mother is very much a New England monied matriarch – Sydney is not someone with whom she would normally associate, so she tries to ignore her. Julie’s father, however, is a sensitive soul who acknowledges his daughter’s limitations, and connects with Sydney as they spend peaceful times in his rose garden.
Julie’s two brothers are closer to Sydney’s age – Ben and Jeff. They are busy with work for the first part of the summer, but when they do visit, there’s definite attraction between both brothers and Sydney. Can she change positions within the family from “employee” to “girlfriend”? Who will accept her, and who will stay at arm’s length? How will this shift in position change the relationships between family members? These are all questions whose answers are slowly revealed by Shreve in Body Surfing, and (as in real life) change through time and experiences.
As the story progresses, we are involved in the inevitable relationship, but there are constant twists and turns that I doubt any reader would suspect! The questions raised by Body Surfing are those that can both rock your emotional foundation, and try to discern what can make you feel secure. To whom do you turn when things aren’t going well, and who can you trust when there is a problem?
After reading Body Surfing, I originally wished for a pat ending, but then realized that the unexpected ending was much more thought-provoking and interesting. I highly recommend this novel for anyone with a love of the beach, family relationships, or simply a love of good writing. Anita Shreve has definitely written a wonderful novel – I suggest picking it up when you can!