17 January 2019

Eden Close by Anita Shreve



I've been itching to read this ever since learning it's Shreve's first book when I wrote the author spotlight on her over a year ago. I have been hit or miss lately with Shreve's books, I loved The Last Time They Met, but I wasn't as into her most recent book, The Stars are FireEden Close was a big hit for me.

The story is about a man named Andrew who has to go back to his hometown following his mother's death and pack up the house he used to live in. While he is there he spends a lot of time reflecting on his past, and specifically a violent incident at his parents' neighbours' house involving his female, childhood best friend Eden. A man broke into the home and sexually assaulted Eden, gunshots followed, Eden's dad was killed, and the shooting left Eden blind.

Andrew, who was always somewhat in love with Eden, tries to re-connect with her while back at his parents', but her mother has forced her to become a shut in and doesn't approve of Andrew visiting. As the story progresses, Andrew begins sneaking in visits with Eden while her mother is at work. They begin a romantic relationship and the questions Andrew has about the incident start to get answered.

I wouldn't say the book is scary, but it is definitely mysterious and a bit eery at times. I also am weirdly frightened by blindness ever since reading John Saul's Comes the Blind Fury as a child, so perhaps this is just my personal take. Shreve is the queen of flashbacks and does an amazing job of re-capping Andrew's life to the current time in a very natural way. You learn about his divorce and his young son, the pressures of his job, etc. Andrew is also incredibly likable and I found myself with a massive crush on him after the first chapter alone.

Anita Shreve... RIP


I felt incredibly stressed while reading this book because of the amount of work Andrew had to do in packing up his parents' house. I tell my fiance everyday how we're never moving again because I hate it so much, I cannot imagine having to do another person's home, and also in a short time because you have a full life to get back to. He has all these chores he needs to do, stuff to sell, donate, pack and ship home, etc. and meanwhile his boss keeps asking when he's coming back to work. It sounds like my actual personal nightmare and I can only pray I never have to do it for anyone. Every time Andrew would take a break to go visit Eden or go have lunch I felt physically stressed about all his chores (and this coming from the self-proclaimed queen of taking 'breaks' from tasks).

While the mystery around Eden and the violence of that night was interesting (and you do finally learn what happened in the end but I won't spoil it), my favourite parts of the novel were when Andrew was reflecting on his first marriage. I love to read about marriage, good or bad, more than almost every other topic, maybe only second to parenting. This book was rich with passages describing a marriage right at it's falling apart, literal candy to me.

His mind protects him from the good memories, which are painful now to contemplate, and from the bad memories, which make him embarrassed for them both. When their nights were very bad, he was incapable of remembering the good ones. Or if he did, they were like childhood stories that no longer had meaning or resonance. Yet when there were good times, sparse though they were near the end, he could absolutely not remember the silences or the bitterness or the emptiness that had followed their fights just a week earlier. Or the fear- a persistent image- that the tiny family he had made was coming apart at the roots. He would sometimes not even be able to remember any of the words of a fight they had just the day before."

I love that Shreve writes characters that admit to things we don't always want to admit about ourselves. I can uncomfortably relate to how easy it is to forget entire fights, incredibly hurtful things that were said, etc. simply because we're back in a state of bliss. I remember once when I was upset over a breakup, my friend Riah said to me, "it wasn't as good as you're remembering it" and I think about her saying that all the time. Our mind plays fucked tricks on us. We can imagine anything to be anything we want.

I also loved this lengthy passage discussing how conflicted divorced couples with children must feel, to regret the relationship entirely but also feel so incredibly grateful for your kids.

They were growing out of love, as if the love itself had always had a finite and predictable life, like childhood. And if they'd been told of this in the beginning, they might have chosen not to marry and have a child, though Andrew could not conceive of ever having made a decision that would lead to a world without Billy. And so they stayed together well past the time when the love had ended, pretending and hoping the hiatus was only temporary, fearful of the future... And yet weren't those the best years of all- with Billy as an infant, a toddler, a little boy standing up in his crib with his arms wide to greet his father who had come home late from work? A tiny boy with a glove two sizes too big for him, cheerfully missing each ball thrown to him, happy simply to be playing with his father, as indeed the father was happy simply to be playing with him. Andrew marvels at this conundrum, and he wonders often if this happened only to him, or if it happens all the time, to everyone who marries."

Overall I felt this was a great piece of fiction if you like this kind of romance-drama type lit. I only very recently learned that Shreve died of cancer in March 2018, which changes the whole tone of this post since she's not going to have any new books for us... I'm glad I loved her first book so much, she was/is one of my favourite fiction authors. 

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