Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Weight of Water: a book review

Grade: B+

The Weight of Water
, by Anita Shreve, draws a parallel between the lives of a photographer in the 1990s, Jean, and a fisherman's wife, Maren, in the late 1800s. Maren is the sole survivor of a brutal double murder, and Jean is seeking to uncover more details about this unresolved crime by traveling to the site on a remote island off the coast of the northeast US shore and photographing it nearly 100 years later.

This is not, however, a murder mystery. Rather, it is a journey into the minds of the main characters and a drawing of parallels between their lives. The main focus and question of the book is this: by telling a tale, can you lift the burden of what you have told from your shoulders? Can you finally let it go so that it can stop haunting you?

The book reinforces the idea of mind over matter, as the two women both create ideas in their minds that overtake the reality of the world around them. Eventually, as they change their behavior in accordance with the visions in their heads, they unintentionally sculpt their actual realities until they become the haunting world in their minds.

What I loved best about this book are Shreve's descriptive details and the way she made things come to life and appear so vividly.
"Rich walks about the Morgan with athletic grace, and he gives the impression of a man for whom nothing has ever been complicated."... "I watch Thomas bend over the stern to snag the mooring. His legs are pale with whorls of brown hair above the backs of his knees. Over his bathing suit, he has on a pink dress shirt, the cuffs rolled to the elbows."... "The sand, I discover, has held the sun's warmth, and it feels good against my bare legs." ... "...I asked with the irritation that comes of not wanting to think about anything except the thing that is frightening you."

It is with this level of thought and detail that the author describes everything from the island of Smuttynose, where most of the womens' stories take place, to every character in the story. As she writes, the reader is in the character's shoes, seeing the men work on the boat, feeling the warmth of the sand, hearing the sloshing of the waves slapping against the hull of the ship...

Shreve's writing is incredibly perceptive not only in terms of character and scene details, but in terms of observances of human feelings and emotions. The tale she tells is realistic and believable, and the reader is transplanted into the minds of both Jean and Maren. The reader can see and feel their worlds through Shreve's vivid and brilliant descriptive details, and can relate to their thoughts and emotions.

This is a good book, but it is Shreve's unique, perceptive descriptions that push it into the category of those I recommend.

Favorite Quotes:
"She was, it must be said, a plain woman with a melancholy aspect, which I have always understood is sometimes appealing to men, as they do not wish a wife who is so beautiful or lively that she causes in her husband a constant worry..."

"...I think we both felt the stricture to be pale reprimand for the thrilling loveliness of the crime."

"I learned that night that love is never as ferocious as when you think it is going to leave you."

"I have never appreciated women who resort to histrionics or who show themselves to be so delicate in their constitutions that they cannot withstand the intense images that words may sometimes conjure forth..."

"There are moments in your life when you know that the sentence that will come next will change your life forever, although you realize, even as you are anticipating this sentence, that your life has already changed. Changed some time ago, and you simply didn't know it."

"I have observed that while fishermen do take seasonal rests from their labors, their womenfolk do not, and do not even when the men are too weak from old age to draw a trawl and must retire from their labors. An aging wife can never retire from her work..."

"I no longer had anything compelling to pray for. Not his arrival, not his love, not even his kindness or presence. For though he was in that room all the days, though we were seldom more than a few feet from each other, it was as though we were on separate continents, for he would not acknowledge me or speak to me unless it was absolutely necessary, and even at those times, I wished that he had not had need to speak to me at all, for the indifference of his tone chilled my blood and made me colder than I had been before. It was a tone utterly devoid of warmth or forgiveness, a tone that seeks to keep another being at bay, at a distance."

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