The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve

Synopsis of The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve (from Publishers Weekly): In 1873, two women living on the Isles of Shoals, a lonely, windswept group of islands off the coast of New Hampshire, were brutally murdered. A third woman survived, cowering in a sea cave until dawn. More than a century later, Jean, a magazine photographer working on a photoessay about the murders, returns to the Isles with her husband, Thomas, and their five-year-old daughter, Billie, aboard a boat skippered by her brother-in-law, Rich, who has brought along his girlfriend, Adaline. As Jean becomes immersed in the details of the 19th-century murders, Thomas and Adaline find themselves drawn together-with potentially ruinous consequences.

Shreve (Where or When; Resistance) perfectly captures the ubiquitous dampness of life on a sailboat, deftly evoking the way in which the weather comes to dictate all actions for those at sea. With the skill of a master shipbuilder, Shreve carefully fits her two stories together, tacking back and forth between the increasingly twisted murder mystery and the escalating tensions unleashed by the threat of a dangerous shipboard romance. Written with assurance and grace, plangent with foreboding and a taut sense of inexorability, The Weight of Water is a powerfully compelling tale of passion, a provocative and disturbing meditation on the nature of love.

My take

I love, love, LOVE this book! I even read it twice because I felt like I didn't give it the attention it deserved when I read it the first time around.

Shreve's style feels like you are flipping through the pages of two books in your lap. Although at times it is jarring, the sudden shifts will definitely keep you on your toes ... and wanting to keep reading.

One story is told by Maren, the survivor of the 1873 axe murders (true events, by the way). The first story's facts are so well-researched; you'll be surprised at the amount of material available online, and how Shreve brings these century's old characters to life. What struck me most was how Shreve so skillfully described Maren's life back then, first in Norway, then later on her hardships and loneliness on the barren and godforsaken island of Smuttynose, America. I got drawn into the depictions of Maren's childhood, her relationship with her siblings, and her relationship with the man she married but obviously did not love.

Jean, a photojournalist in the presentday, is on assignment. While researching Maren's story, she too recalls her own life ... her love story with husband Thomas, a poet and their lovely daughter Billy. Stuck on a cramped boat with Thomas' brother and girlfriend Adaline, Jean can't help but notice the charged exchanges between Adaline and Thomas. Jean starts to question her own marriage. She finds refuge in her lovely daughter Billie, and somehow but wrongly in someone else ...

The juxtaposition of these two stories highlights how our lives are basically the same despite time or place. Getting to the endings, they are severely tragic. But I didn't feel shortchanged because of the unusual way to which I reached them. Granted that many people find the story (stories) depressing doesn't lessen that fact that these characters  became real and I felt for them, both sets of characters. I highly recommend this read.

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall