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Posted August 15, 2011
Edith Wharton's The Reef is a story of chances-those missed, stolen, and recaptured, you could say. At the center of the story are George Darrow, who works for the American Embassy in London, and Anna Leath, the woman he has, dare I say it, adored from afar for so very long now. Already Wharton sets the tone of the novel, likely expecting the reader to sympathize with the suffering of the "aging" lovers. Darrow missed his chance with Anna long ago when she instead married Leath, to whom she subsequently bore a daughter and became stepmother to Leath's son, Owen.
However, Leath has passed on, and Darrow now feels his chance has returned at last to be with the woman he loves. And so off he goes, preparing for the journey to Paris, France, only to receive a letter from Anna telling him not to come, to delay his journey a couple more weeks. You would think after waiting all this time, Darrow might have gotten used to it, but no, he is outraged by this new delay and his imagination conjures all kinds of sinister motives for being put off yet again, particularly as Anna has utterly neglected to explain in the message to him why it is she wishes him to wait.
It is now, on the outset of his halted journey that Darrow meets-rather rediscovers-young Sophy Viner, also heading for Paris on the heels of a family she hopes will help her along. Sophy has not had the best of luck. Her aspirations for the stage have gotten her nowhere and her recent employment, serving a rather harsh woman, has ended brittlely. She has no resources of her own and has lost the trail of her friends, and is attractive and eager-just to make things more interesting. Embittered and gradually enchanted, Darrow takes Sophy under his wing and shows her around Paris, allowing their brief relationship to go perhaps a bit further than he had intended. But then again, he has no idea what is going on with Anna, does he?
Wharton certainly knows how to create characters, how to draw scenery, how to manipulate feelings. Yet in The Reef, I couldn't help but feel that there was just not enough of a story to keep me engaged. Will Anna finally let George into her life? Will she discover what he has been up to in Paris? Will George be able to move on from Sophy and enjoy his love with Anna? Will Sophy ever make it on the stage? And what of Owen? ... After a while, I just couldn't care enough anymore. Not a bad book, certainly. Well crafted, to give credit where credit is due, but just not powerful enough for me.
Posted January 15, 2010
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