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A Student of Living Things
     

A Student of Living Things

3.0 2
by Susan Richards Shreve
 

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The Frayn family of Washington, D.C., is coping pretty well with twenty-first century realities of life?snipers, bomb threats, natural disasters, etc. Then, in the moment it takes Claire Frayn to dig for her umbrella, her politically outspoken brother Steven is shot down right next to her on the library steps.

Steven's murder shatters the tightly knit Frayn

Overview

The Frayn family of Washington, D.C., is coping pretty well with twenty-first century realities of life?snipers, bomb threats, natural disasters, etc. Then, in the moment it takes Claire Frayn to dig for her umbrella, her politically outspoken brother Steven is shot down right next to her on the library steps.

Steven's murder shatters the tightly knit Frayn family, and his sister Claire becomes determined to unravel the mystery of why her brother was killed. Searching for answers, Claire meets Victor, an enigmatic stranger who claims to know who killed Steven. Claire begins an unusual correspondence with the suspected assassin, but instead of uncovering the truth of her brother's death, she finds herself drawn to this man, and increasingly apprehensive about cooperating with Victor's plans to avenge Steven's death.

A gripping family drama with an unusual love story at its center, this is an intimate portrait of grief, the futility of revenge, and the miracle of forgiveness.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Provocative. Tantalizing.
The Seattle Times
Shreve has captured the post-9/11 zeitgeist ... part family drama and part psychological thriller, [this novel] is something else as well: an old-fashioned epistolary romance.
Valerie Sayers
[Shreve's] style is brisk and engaging, even tantalizing, particularly in the first half of the book. An air of menace yields to a sense of anticipation as Claire seems about to crack open the mystery of her brother's death. She and her family are vividly drawn: Claire, a graduate student of biology, knows all about the natural world but has been curiously sheltered from men. Her father is a professor of medicine, who retreats nightly to a hangar in the back garden where he rebuilds antique planes; her mother, Julia, whose parents fled both Nazi Europe and Pinochet-era Chile, is angry and vibrant.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
One April morning in a near-future Washington, D.C., Claire Frayn and her brother, Steven, leave for George Washington University, where she is a biology Ph.D. student (and mother of three-month-old Asa), Steven is a law student with a penchant for writing op-eds and their father is a professor of medicine; aunt Faith works nearby in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. They leave their parents and extended family arguing over Steven's latest piece: this one bashes the DOJ's enforcement of the Freedom for Democracy Act. It is a salvo in the "civil war" (as Claire describes it) that churns as U.S. homeland security tightens, and paranoia reigns. Steven is shot dead on the library steps; that same morning, Faith is fired. Claire, steps from Steven when he dies, slowly resumes daily life and metamorphoses like the insects that fascinated her since childhood. With Asa's father out of the picture, she slips into a cloak-and-dagger scheme with an alluring stranger to coax Steven's killer back to town. Shreve, author of 12 novels and more than two score children's books, is parsimonious with the opening plot points, but once the momentum shifts forward, just try to put this book down. (On sale May 4) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
As a graduate student in biology, Claire tends to a menagerie of creatures-mice, birds, snakes, and insects-and she finds solace in this daily routine. However, she is constantly aware that just beyond the relative safety of the academic arena, there is widespread fear and civil unrest. On one fateful day, these two worlds collide when Claire's brother, a law student with shadowy connections, is shot and killed as he and Claire are leaving the campus library. Of course, many questions arise. Who, for instance, is the man who has been following Claire since that terrible day? Are she and the rest of the family in danger as well? Shreve is a veteran writer of both juvenile fiction and adult fiction, often exploring the oh-so-uncomfortable mix of terrorism and family dynamics, as in Plum & Jaggers (2000). Within this latest novel of suspense, political intrigue, and psychological drama, protagonist Claire narrates the story in a dispassionate voice that somehow serves to increase the level of pervasive anxiety. Indeed, the author says that she found her ideas for the story during the time of the "Beltway Snipers" incidents around Washington, DC, in 2002. A dark and fog-shrouded tale; recommended for readers of contemporary suspense in larger fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In the aftermath of a political murder, a young woman opts for vengeance in this thriller-paced family drama. In the Washington, D.C., of a not-too-distant future, in the midst of mysterious bombings and red alerts and a Justice Department tightening the screws, law student Steven Frayn is shot on the steps of his university's library. The FBI soon concludes that this was not just another random terrorist attack (cousin Bernard lost a leg to a bomb at a convenience store) but an assassination-someone wanted Steven dead. The murder unravels a close-knit family. Steven's father retreats to the small hangar in the yard of their Bethesda home, where he is rebuilding an old plane-never mind that he doesn't know how to fly. Mother Julia rants and makes suspect lists for the FBI. Uncle Milo decides what the family really needs is music, and so buys a piano. But it is the novel's narrator, Steven's sister Claire, who becomes embroiled in an unlikely plot to bring Steven's killer to justice. A biology student (with a musty bedroom filled with dead and living things), Claire returns to school after the murder and (not so accidentally) meets Victor Duarte, a young radical who claims to have known Steven, and may have answers as to who killed him. The magnetic Victor convinces Claire that Benjamin Reed, a music student in Michigan and son of Charles Reed, head of the Justice Department, is Steven's killer. Victor creates an elaborate plan to trap Benjamin, and Claire, in her shock and sorrow, can't see the absurdity of the scheme. As Benjamin and Claire begin to exchange love letters of sorts-music that they compose-Claire begins to question what she knows about Victor, Steven and herself. Shreve'sstorytelling, smart and economic, is in danger here of being too spare-her grand collection of characters is beautifully outlined, but not fully realized, and for a novel trading in emotional upheaval, that is no small flaw. Evocative and thoughtful, but too thin to prove a success.
From the Publisher
Shreve has captured the post-9/11 zeitgeist . . . part family drama and part psychological thriller, [this novel] is something else as well: an old-fashioned epistolary romance. (The Seattle Times)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781440696060
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/03/2007
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
1,139,395
File size:
641 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Pulitzer Prizewinning author of Independence Richard Ford
Stylish and sleek and tightly configured. (Richard Ford, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Independence Day)
Ha Jin
Elegantly written and ingeniously plotted. (Ha Jin, author of War Trash)

Meet the Author

Susan Richards Shreve has published twelve novels and twenty-six books for children, and has coedited five anthologies. A professor at George Mason University, she has received several grants for fiction including from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a former visiting professor at Princeton and Columbia universities.

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A Student of Living Things 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed in this book. It moves very slowly and isn't much of a thriller. A predictable plot with little action. Life is too short to read books like this.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Claire Frayn is a post graduate student majoring in biology at George Washington University her brother Steven is studying law at the school and enjoys writing articles criticizing the government. Claire and Steven head to the university together while their parents debate his latest condemnation, this time of the Department of Justice¿s use of the Freedom for Democracy Act to trample on individual rights under the guise of keeping people safe. At the school¿s library, an assassin shoots and kills Steven right near Claire --- Claire goes through the five steps of grief, but wants revenge against the killer who conveniently escapes law enforcement however she feels helpless as she has no idea who he or she is or how to uncover the culprit¿s identity. From Michigan, music composer Victor Duarte contacts Claire informing her he can help her with her need to avenge her sibling. She is enticed by his offer as her family remains devastated by the tragedy and is not there for her. However, as Claire heals she begins to ponder who charismatic Victor is, as he seems to know too much yet the second civil war in her mind began with that bullet on the library steps. --- Though the introduction to the extended Frayn family takes its time, once Steven is murdered, the story line turns into a terrific thriller that never slows down until the climax. Claire is a wonderful heroine struggling with the death of her brother as much as with her feelings of hopelessness until Victor offers her an opportunity. Like Claire when she begins to regain her equilibrium and leave behind much of the fog of grief, readers will wonder if she has agreed to a Faustian deal. Readers will be a student of Susan Richards Shreve following this tense tale. --- Harriet Klausner