Anita Shreve, |
(Back Bay, 2003;
Little, Brown & Co., 2004)
Anita Shreve asserts herself as one of the foremost contemporary American authors of historical fiction with Sea Glass, an absorbing tale of two young newlyweds riding the waves of the Great Depression in New England.
The novel focuses on Honora Willard, a young bankteller who marries Sexton Beecher, a charming typewriter salesman, and moves with him to a dilapidated house outside a New Hampshire coastal town. Honora settles into the role of dutiful wife with an inward trepidation that is lost in her husband's superficial view of her. Often left alone when Sexton makes business trips, Honora busies herself with her housekeeping duties interspersed with walks on the beach to find the sea glass of the title -- weathered bits of colored flotsam that prove to be treasures to her. Only when an array of intriguing characters, including the unconventional society maven Vivian, the thoughtful young millworker McDermott and the 11-year-old French immigrant Alphonse, invade her life do we begin to see her many depths.
Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the five principal characters, a device that advances the plot while also offering insight into each individual. Shreve skillfully creates a sense of place, from the Beechers' stormtossed home to a seedy speakeasy to the stifling conditions of the local mills, while still formulating a compelling narrative. The brevity of each chapter might entice the reader to blow through half the book in one sitting, but a slightly more careful reading may be necessary to notice the subtleties Shreve weaves into each character and the story.