Body Surfing – Anita Shreve

I have been an Anita Shreve fan for several years – well, okay, decades. I read her first novel, Eden Close back in the 70s when it first came out and remember really liking it.  Her novel The Pilot’s Wife was an Oprah pick and, thus, huge. But I’m partial to the quieter novels: Where or When, The Last Time They Met.

Body Surfing is the story of Sydney, a once-divorced, once-widowed woman who comes to live on the New Hampshire coast to tutor the beautiful but intellectually challenged Julie, youngest daughter of icy matriarch Mrs. Edwards and kind architect, Mr. Edwards. Her summer at the seashore is disrupted by the arrival of Julie’s older brothers, Ben and Jeff. Soon, Sydney is caught in the undertow of the strange and antagonistic relationship between the brothers.

I found the novel odd and oddly compelling. Shreve unfurls Sydney’s story in short elliptical passages, layering Sydney’s  day-to-day routine with memories of her divorce and dead husband. It’s hard to say what she is searching for because most of the time she isn’t even aware of it. Perhaps she is looking for family – but the Edward’s have issues of their own despite the appearance of perfection. Whatever she is looking for, it is complicated and there aren’t any easy answers.

Shreve is a good writer, but I wouldn’t say that Body Surfing is her best book. Of course, even on a bad day, she’s still a cut above the rest.

30 Day Book Meme – Day 2

A book that you’ve read more than 3 times.

If you saw my to-be-read shelf (350+ unread books that are physically on my shelf) or flipped through the notebook where I keep an alphabetical never-ending list of the books I’d like to read, you’d laugh at the notion that I have actually read a book three times.  But I have.

The hands-down winner is Kristin McCloy’s 1988 novel, Velocity. I purchased this book around the time it was published at The Strand in New York City. I was really excited to find it because I hadn’t been able to find it at any book store in my hometown and this was before the days of ABE and Bookcloseouts.

Velocity is the story of Ellie, a young woman who leaves her life and boyfriend in NYC and returns to her teensy hometown after a car accident kills her mother. Her father, a local police officer, is lost in his own grief and he and Ellie spend their summer tiptoeing around each other. Ellie doesn’t, however, tiptoe around Jesse, the Hell’s Angel biker who lives down the road; her grief manifests itself in an all-consuming sexual relationship with him.

I tell myself, Once he was mine, and that was enough. But it wasn’t. It was never true, and it was never enough. You hunted down your needs – simple and precise – and in those days it was me.

So, back in the day, Velocity spoke to me because I was madly, crazily, obsessively in love with the quintessential bad-boy. Her story was my story (without the dead mother.) Her crazy, reckless lust for Jesse mirrored my own doomed relationship and I couldn’t get enough. My relationship ended, but my love affair with this book did not. I still read it once a year and have done for over 20 years.

Why? I think it’s the quality of McCloy’s writing and the story’s emotional weight. Ellie’s story has stayed with me all these years because ultimately this is a story about loss and reconciliation and Ellie is intelligent and fragile and so desperate to be strong that she implodes. Jesse is not just her sexual foil; he is not without shades of gray and he’s impossible attractive.

Kristin McCloy, as far as I know, has only written one other book and I haven’t read it. I don’t know this for sure but I’ve always felt that Velocity was a very personal book for her. I have passed it on many times – but only if the borrower promises to return it!