Sunday, July 25, 2010
Sea Glass: Anita Shreve
I have unwittingly become a fan of Anita Shreve. For one thing, her writing is so easy and quick to read, yet there is an elegance about her stories that offer just what a novel ought to be--an escape. Sea Glass is no different, and if anything, epitomizes Shreve's skill.
In 1920, Honora and Sexton are a Very young newlywed couple who have just moved into a beach house somewhere not too far from Boston and not too near Nantucket. Honora is a naive twenty year old from a small family. Sexton is twenty-four and is a traveling typewriter salesman with no discernible family. In the beginning, as with all marriages, everything seems absolutely blissful. A few other characters are sewn into the mix, including a well-to-do single lady called Vivian, an extremely poor mill hand named McDermott, and the young Franco boy he has taken under his wing, Alphonse. Anita Shreve beautifully intertwines the lives of these characters and builds a very realistic picture of the pre-depression era. As we all know, the roaring twenties were followed by a very bleak depression filled with unionized strikes and tent cities. What begins a story about excitement and love quickly becomes a woeful tale of deceit, struggle, and famine.
The "sea glass" part of the story is really just a very nice poetic touch. Living on the beach, Honora frequently walks the shoreline and soon discovers that the sand is littered with small, smooth pieces of glass that have been softened by the elements. She finds them in a multitude of colors and sizes, and it soon becomes her hobby. In the midst of chaos, she finds peace and calm in the small bits of glass, wondering how they came to be. I am sure there is a beautiful metaphor that Shreve was aiming for, but I can't quite connect the dots. In any case, I love love love the idea of walking in the sand, looking for sea glass.
As I've already mentioned, Shreve's writing is beautiful and elegant. She illustrates an entire era with a few well-developed characters. I won't give away the ending, but it is a surprise, and that impresses me. I find that it's hard to surprise me anymore, so when an author is able to blindside me with a turn of plot line, I admire it.