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.