BODY SURFING by Anita Shreve

Shreve I picked up Body Surfing on audio at the library a few weeks ago because 1) I like Anita Shreve, and 2) I bought the hardcover at a used booksale earlier this year and I like to read the paper version along with the audio.

Body Surfing is about Sydney Sklar, a woman who divorced her first husband and lost her second to a brain aneurism, all before the young age of 29. She is spending her summer working as a tutor to Julie Edwards, a high school student, at Julie's family's beach house in New Hampshire (the same house that has been the setting of a few other of Anita Shreve's novels). When the book opens, Julie's two older brothers, Ben and Jeff, have arrived at the beach house for a visit, and the book is about the ramifications of that visit and the effect the brothers' relationship has on Sydney and, ultimately, the rest of the family.

Anita Shreve is a good storyteller. She's a precise writer, if a bit cold and unemotional. Body Surfing is told in short sections, many consisting of only a few paragraphs, and the book goes by very quickly. I liked Shreve's descriptions of the Edwards family – she conveys a lot about a character simply by describing their clothing and their mannerisms, a minimalistic style that contributes to the quick pace of the story.

Plotwise, it was a little weak. The whole book hinges on one decision by one person, which was motivated by a desire to hurt a second person. That motivation is ultimately not very convincing. I wish that Shreve had spent more time laying foundations for what happened, rather than just rushing through the whole sequence of developments at the same brisk pace that the whole book followed. In retrospect, there was so much in the book that was unrealistic or just not adequately addressed. Sydney, too, was a frustratingly passive character. "Body surfing" is a good description of how she lives her life, buffeted by the the actions and motivations of other characters and barely able to assert control over the direction in which she moves.

Good vacation read, for sure; but not great literary fiction. Perhaps that's like many Anita Shreve novels – it has been a while since I have read anything by her.

As for the audio – I know I complain about this a lot, but the narrator overanunciated, which always bugs me. But it wasn't bad, overall. I found that I liked the book much better – it went much more quickly and there was more momentum and tension. Oh – there are some INCREDIBLY cheesy and highly distracting musical interludes spread throughout the audio version, especially in moments of high tension. Not good.

Overall, a good read, not a great one. But fine if you're looking for something on the light side.

2 Comments

  • July 4, 2011 - 10:02 am | Permalink

    I gave this one to my mom during a recent purge of the bookshelves (not sure if she read it or plans to) so seeing this doesn’t make me feel so bad about giving it up. I don’t know what it is about me and Shreve … a lot of her books have left me feeling like this. Perhaps she’s just not for me, which is OK ….

  • July 4, 2011 - 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoy Shreve’s work, but haven’t read this one. It sounds like I should look for it in print.

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