Title: Sea Glass
Author: Anita Shreve
Source: The library where I work
Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge; 451 Challenge
First Sentence: "Honora sets the cardboard suitcase on the slab of granite."
Summary (From book flap):
It is a house on the beach. Honora doesn't mind renting -- despite its age and all its flaws, the old house is the perfect place for a new marriage. She and Sexton throw themselves into their new life together. Each morning, Honora collects sea glass washed up on the shore, each piece carrying a different story in its muted hues.
Sexton finds a way to buy the house, but his timing is perfectly wrong. The economy takes a sickening plunge, and as financial pressures mount, Honora begins to see how little she knows this man she has married -- and to realize just how threatening the world outside her front door can be.
Like those translucent shards that Honora finds on the beach, Sea Glass is layered with the textures, colors, and voices of another time. There is Vivian, an irreverent Boston socialite who becomes Honora's closest friend even as she rejects every form of convention. McDermott, a man who works in a nearby mill, presses Honora's deepest notions of trust -- even as he embroils her in a dangerous dispute. And there's Alphonse, a boy whose openness becomes the bond that holds these people together as their world is flying apart.
My Two Cents:
This was my first experience with Anita Shreve, and I can definitely say it will not be my last. Unfortunately, the rest of my book club didn't feel the same way. Of the four of us who were able to make it to the meeting, two hadn't finished it and one didn't like the book. Oh, well.
Shreve's writing is really high-caliber. She paints a picture, not only of the people about whom you're reading, but also of the times. I felt as if I was really there on the beach, at the strike rallies, etc., when she described them. On the back of my copy of the book, she's compared to Edith Wharton and Henry James. I can't speak much for the James comparison (I've read so little of his work), but when it comes to the ability to make the reader see the time period and the characters, she's on par with Wharton.
I thought that the situation in which Shreve set this novel -- on the cusp of the Great Depression and in the midst of a labor strike -- was great. It really brought together characters from all social levels, from Vivian on the top all the way down to Alphonse and McDermott on the bottom, together and showed them reacting to things they had never experienced before.
With the exception of Sexton, I can't think of a character I didn't like. I think I saw some of myself in Honora, a woman who just wants to keep her nice home and have her quiet life and her husband. Vivian made me laugh often, and I loved how she finally hits her stride and steps outside her normal experiences to get involved with the striking workers. McDermott had to grow on me a bit. I didn't like him at first, but I really came to like and admire him as a character. My favorite character, though, was Alphonse. He's the little boy that everyone wishes they knew and I felt so sorry for him. He was, as someone at my book club said, the only character who had no control over his situation. I spent the entire book hoping things would turn out well for him.
The only problem I had with this book, and it was very minor, was that the chapters flipping among all the different characters for each chapter was a little disarming at first. It's not an unusual route to take in narrating a novel, but it just took a bit longer for me to get used to it because there were so many characters who had their own chapters. But, once I got past that, it was a really easy read.