9 January 2020

Fortune's Rocks by Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve is one of my favourite fiction authors and she sadly passed away last year at 71 years old from cancer. I wrote a whole author spotlight on her here and can't say enough good things about her writing style. Sadly I only have a handful of her books left unread and I'm torn between whether to savour them or just read them all in one go and eliminate the stress of their finale. I've been wanting to read Fortune's Rocks for a while now because it's set on the American east coast (one of my favourite places) but am sad to report that this is actually one of my least favourite books of hers, if not my actual least favourite.

The plot follows a teenage girl from a well-off family who falls in love and begins an affair with one of her father's friends while staying at their east coast cottage for the summer. It's set way in the past (think carriages) which usually I would have no interest in but for Shreve I will try almost anything. The book is split into almost two fully separate stories, with the first half being about the affair, and the second following the girl, Olympia, as she fights for custody of her son. I found the first half to be a huge snooze. I don't like whirlwind romance where all a man does is touch a woman's face and suddenly she'll never find a love as great as his. The second half was actually interesting but by then I was already so bored of the book and felt it was really dragging it's heels. I wish Shreve had simply split the novel in two.

Fortunately Shreve's writing is so detailed that even aside from the plotlines there is so much about her novels to enjoy. As mentioned, I love the American east coast and Shreve paints the most romantic pictures of the landscape and what it feels like to stand on the beach there. I thought this was a really good bit of writing to kind of showcase the level of detail that goes into all of her settings:

Outside the house and below the porches are massive tangles of hydrangea bushes. A front lawn spills down to the seawall, which is little more than a rocky barricade against the ocean and which is covered at this time of year with masses of beach roses. Thus, the view from the porch is one of emerald leaves with blots of pink against a blue so sparking that it is not so much a color as the experience of light."

The highlight of this book is definitely the court battle for custody of Olympia's son, who has, for a number of reasons I don't want to spoil, been living with an adopted family for almost two years. The book takes a turn into domestic fiction at this point, which I absolutely love, and has some Kramer vs. Kramer emotional vibes. This whole plot could have easily made it's own book because Fortune's Rocks is also insanely long for a Shreve novel (~450 pages), and I would have appreciated it as a story much more without the boring first ~200 pages of love affair.

From across the aisle, Olympia can see the look that passes between mother and child - a look that will have to last a lifetime, a lifetime of lost days, a lifetime of days that must now always be something less... And then she dares to look again at Albertine Bolduc, who in this moment will lose the child who has been her son. The anguish is more than any woman should be forced to endure, more than another woman can bear to watch."

If you're working through Shreve's repertoire then I'm sure you'll inevitably read this but if you're just looking for a piece of fiction I wouldn't recommend this. She has 10+ books that are way better, and easier to read. I feel guilty for not liking this because as I mentioned I only have a few of her books left to read, but alas, it was definitely one of the 3 worst books I read all last year.

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