Friday, June 27, 2008

Julie's Review: Body Surfing

Photobucket Summary: Set adrift at 29 by the sudden death of her second husband (her first divorced her), smart, underemployed Sydney (no last name) signs on for a quiet New England oceanfront summer of tutoring 18-year-old Julie, the intellectually slow but artistically talented and strikingly beautiful daughter of the fractious Edwards clan. The family includes Julie's brothers—35-year-old Boston corporate real estate man Ben and 31-year-old M.I.T. poli-sci professor Jeff—and the three children's parents. Sydney is half-Jewish, and Mrs. Edwards is anti-Semitic. Family tensions escalate when Julie disappears, then resurfaces in Montreal as the lesbian lover of 25-year-old Helene (a body surfer who frequented the beach near the Edwardses' home). Jeff and Sydney bond during their search for Julie, nights of passion leading to plans for a joyous wedding, which get very complicated when the couple returns to Edwards central. Shreve's devastating depiction of the family's dissolution—the culmination of sublimated jealousies suddenly exploding into the open—is wrenching. Shreve's omniscience is asserted with such ease that it often feels like she's toying with her characters, but her control is masterful, particularly in the sure-handed and compassionate aftermath.

Review: I've been a huge fan of Anita Shreve ever since my mom gave me The Pilot's Wife (Oprah's Book Club) to read. I know I haven't read them all but pretty close to it. Body Surfing: A Novel isn't part of a series perse, but it feels like it because the beach house used in the book has been a part of several of her novels. It is to the point now where the house itself has become a main character. I love the house and it's history. It's as alive as any of the characters here.

In my opinion, this isn't Ms. Shreve's strongest novel. The characters are a little weak and while the prose is beautiful, the plot just didn't fully engage me. I figured out the plot fairly early on but I wanted to really find out what happened to a few of the characters. The main protagonist is Sydney and she's a bit lost after losing her 2nd husband to a sudden death. She's hired on as a tutor for the Edwards' daughter Julie, who Ms. Shreve tries to portray as "slow" but I don't think really succeeds. I like Sydney and felt she was give a raw deal in life but I didn't love her. I wanted her to become stronger and at the end I didn't feel like she had grown any. The only other 2 characters I really enjoyed were Julie and Mr. Edwards. There was something about Mr. Edwards that radiated warmth.

A few plot points never fully get resolved; instead you the reader are left to surmise what the cause and effects are based on what you know. It's an interesting way to write but I like an ending that is clear not blurry. It's an interesting book about the inner workings of a family and sibling rivarly but not Ms. Shreve's finest work. For her finest work (of course my opinion) you should read Fortune's Rocks: A Novel and Sea Glass: A Novel.

Final Take: 3.75/5


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