Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
The latest work by this versatile novelist (The Pilot's Wife; Fortune's Rocks) may be her most mature to date, as she demonstrates new subtleties in the unfolding of a complex plot. Proceeding in reverse chronological order, Shreve recounts the obsessive love between poets Linda Fallon and Thomas Janes; theirs is a highly charged affair, though they connect only three times in 35 years. The novel's three sections ("Fifty-Two," "Twenty-Six" and "Seventeen") refer to Linda's ages when she meets and later encounters Thomas first (last in the book's structure) as a troubled teen near Boston with "only indistinct memories of her mother and no real ones of her father"; then in Kenya, where Linda has joined the Peace Corps and Thomas's wife, Regina, is working with UNICEF; and finally at a literary festival in Toronto where both characters, unbeknownst to each other, are guest speakers. Though each of the novel's segments is intensely powerful, the cumulative effect is especially wrenching, as the reader knows what Linda and Thomas have yet to experience. Their Africa encounter is especially gripping, since both characters are torn between their mutual passion and their love for their spouses. (Linda has also married, and Regina's announcement of her pregnancy adds further tension.) Shreve's compassionate view of human frailties a recurring theme in much of her work is at its most affecting here, as she meticulously interweaves past and present with total credibility. Her fluid narrative perfectly mirrors her protagonists' evolving temperaments and viewpoints, while her overall restraint serves to intensify the novel's devastating conclusion. (Apr.) FYI: The film version of Shreve's 1996 novel, The Weight of Water, starring Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley, is due in theaters later this year. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Bestselling Shreve ( The Pilot's Wife , 1998, etc.) reuses a character from a previous novel in this new work tracing a doomed love affair backwards in time. We meet 52-year-old Linda Fallon checking into a Toronto hotel for a literary conference, at which she meets fellow American poet Thomas Janes, whom she hasn't seen since the disastrous denouement of their adulterous affair in Africa 25 years earlier. Since then, as readers of The Weight of Water (1997) already know, he's seen his five-year-old daughter drown and gotten a second divorce. Thomas still carries the torch Linda first ignited when she was a working-class Catholic teenager recently returned from a Magdalene home for "wayward girls" and he was an Episcopalian from the right side of the tracks dazzled by her boldness and individuality. During the conference they fall into bed again, and Part One ends with a parting at the airport that offers hope of long-delayed happiness for this star-crossed pair. Part Two depicts their encounter in Kenya: both married to other people but retaining tender memories of the adolescent romance cut short by a car accident, they're briefly happy until Thomas's wife finally achieves her desperate desire to get pregnant, triggering an ugly confrontation the author inexplicably doesn't allow us to witness. Part Three finally gets us back to Hull, Massachusetts, but the story of Linda's abuse by her aunt's boyfriend and her sexual healing through Thomas's love is overshadowed by an outrageous final plot twist. It's fine to fool the reader if you play fairfor example, as Rebecca Goldstein did in Properties of Light (2000). Shreve, by contrast, doesn't suggest that her solid (if not especially gripping) storyline is anything other than what it seems until she tears the entire premise to shreds in the book's two last pages. The shock ending and pretentious elements, such as Linda's unconvincing struggle with her faith, can't disguise the fact that the author is very short of fresh ideas here.
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