Strange Fits of Passion: A Novel

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Overview

The reader is left to uncover the truth in this labryinth of a tale, a riveting story told within the framework of one reporter's notes and a woman's letters from prison. Everyone believes that Maureen and Harrold English, two successful New York City journalists, have a happy, stable marriage. It's the early '70s and no one discusses or even suspects domestic abuse. But after Maureen suffers another brutal beating, she flees New York with her infant daughter and seeks refuge in a small coastal town in Maine. The...
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Strange Fits of Passion: A Novel

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Overview

The reader is left to uncover the truth in this labryinth of a tale, a riveting story told within the framework of one reporter's notes and a woman's letters from prison. Everyone believes that Maureen and Harrold English, two successful New York City journalists, have a happy, stable marriage. It's the early '70s and no one discusses or even suspects domestic abuse. But after Maureen suffers another brutal beating, she flees New York with her infant daughter and seeks refuge in a small coastal town in Maine. The weeks pass slowly, and just as Maureen begins to heal physically and emotionally, Harrold finds her, bringing the story to a violent, unforgettable end.

From the author of Eden Close comes a follow-up work of emotion and late-night suspense. Escaping an abusive relationship, a young woman heads for Maine's icy coast and finds solitude and new love--until her husband tracks her down. "Intense, impressive, forcefully true."--Booklist. Disney bought the movie rights for Eden Close.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As she did in her first novel, Eden Close , Shreve opens this absorbing story with oblique hints of a violent event--here a murder committed by a woman in response to domestic abuse--then segues to flashbacks that slowly reveal the circumstances leading up to it. A reporter who wrote a book about the crime shares her notes, presented in alternating versions and voices. Most affecting is the voice of the accused woman, who flees Manhattan with her six-month-old daughter to seek sanctuary in a coastal Maine village where she is protected by the clannish but sympathetic townspeople. She finds temporary solace in an affair with a sensitive lobsterman, but is betrayed to her husband by another man out of jealousy. Shreve is particularly effective in evoking the landscape and atmosphere of a close-knit community and the authentic vernacular of its nicely differentiated inhabitants. Her elegiac, portentous prose provides effective pacing. The novel's main drawback, however, lies in its predictability, and in the lack of credibility for the heroine's violent act, faults Shreve somewhat overcomes by raising the question of journalistic integrity (did the reporter alter her notes?) and the possibility that the accused woman's account might have contained deliberate falsehoods. In spite of its superficialities, however, the novel is often insightful and moving. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Thrilling and finely written . . . Ms. Shreve renders the beleaguered woman's voice, and the voices of other townspeople, with the arresting clarity we ask of all good writing."-The New Yorker

"Shreve's prose is clear and compassionate, and her message moving."-The Washington Post Book World

"Superbly rendered . . . both touching and troubling. The box-within-a-box structure moves Shreve's subtle and searing book beyond the contemporary horror genre. It creates a kind of double novel."-Cosmopolitan

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156007108
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/1/1999
  • Series: Harvest Book Series
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 4.95 (w) x 7.55 (h) x 1.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of Fortune's Rocks, The Pilot's Wife, The Weight of Water, Resistance, Eden Close, and Where or When. She teaches at Amherst College and lives in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.

Biography

For many readers, the appeal of Anita Shreve’s novels is their ability to combine all of the escapist elements of a good beach read with the kind of thoughtful complexity not generally associated with romantic fiction. Shreve’s books are loaded with enough adultery, eroticism, and passion to make anyone keep flipping the pages, but the writer whom People magazine once dubbed a “master storyteller” is also concerned with the complexities of her characters’ motivations, relationships, and lives.

Shreve’s novels draw on her diverse experiences as a teacher and journalist: she began writing fiction while teaching high school, and was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975 for her story, “Past the Island, Drifting.” She then spent several years working as a journalist in Africa, and later returned to the States to raise her children. In the 1980s, she wrote about women’s issues, which resulted in two nonfiction books -- Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone -- before breaking into mainstream fiction with Eden Close in 1989.

This interest in women’s lives -- their struggles and success, families and friendships -- informs all of Shreve’s fiction. The combination of her journalist’s eye for detail and her literary ear for the telling turn of phrase mean that Shreve can spin a story that is dense, atmospheric, and believable. Shreve incorporates the pull of the sea -- the inexorable tides, the unpredictable surf -- into her characters’ lives the way Willa Cather worked the beauty and wildness of the Midwestern plains into her fiction. In Fortune’s Rocks and The Weight of Water, the sea becomes a character itself, evocative and ultimately consuming. In Sea Glass, Shreve takes the metaphor as far as she can, where characters are tested again and again, only to emerge stronger by surviving the ravages of life.

A domestic sensualist, Shreve makes use of the emblems of household life to a high degree, letting a home tell its stories just as much as its inhabitants do, and even recycling the same house through different books and periods of time, giving it a sort of palimpsest effect, in which old stories burn through the newer ones, creating a historical montage. "A house with any kind of age will have dozens of stories to tell," she says. "I suppose if a novelist could live long enough, one could base an entire oeuvre on the lives that weave in and out of an antique house."

Shreve’s work is sometimes categorized as “women’s fiction,” because of her focus on women’s sensibilties and plights. But her evocative and precise language and imagery take her beyond category fiction, and moderate the vein of sentimentality which threads through her books. Moreover, her kaleidoscopic view of history, her iron grip on the details and detritus of 19th-century life (which she sometimes intersperses with a 20th-century story), and her uncanny ability to replicate 19th-century dialogue without sounding fusty or fussy, make for novels that that are always absorbing and often riveting. If she has a flaw, it is that her imagery is sometimes too cinematic, but one can hardly fault her for that: after all, the call of Hollywood is surely as strong as the call of the sea for a writer as talented as Shreve.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Why is Maureen attracted to Harrold? How much is he a mentor to her? Can you understand why she marries him? Why do you think she stays with her abusive husband for so long? How much is Maureen's judgment impaired by the excessive drinking? Does she have a problem with alcohol or is she using it as a shield against the truth? Can you believe that she wouldn't have told anyone about the abuse? (Keep in mind that this takes place more than twenty-five years ago.)

2. When she leaves Harrold the first time why didn't she stay in Chicago with her mother? Is she worried about disappointing her mother or is she too afraid of Harrold? What finally makes her flee? This novel makes a statement about how well you can really know another person. How well does Mary know herself? Does she change her name to Mary Amesbury to conceal her identity or is she also creating a new one?

3. Would the people of St. Hilaire have helped her if she didn't have Caroline? Would she have received help in a big city? Why do the townspeople challenge Mary on her story of the car accident? Does Julia approve or disapprove of Mary's affair with Jack?

4. Jack tells Mary that he doesn't mind giving up his dream of coaching and teaching. Do you believe him? Jack is a man bound by duty, first to his father's lobster boat, then to his de-pressed wife. How much is he a product of his time? Of place? Mary sees her and Jack's reflection in the window and thinks, "We didn't look anything like a love affair rather something homelier, more familiar." Is she in love with him, or does she need him?

5. Do you think Willis turns on Mary because she rejects him? Willis seems to walk a thin line betweenright and wrong, did you worry that he might try to hurt her? Why does she allow Willis to stay in her house when she's clearly uncomfortable with him?

6. When Caroline has the serious ear infection why doesn't Mary tell the doctor the truth and ask him to conceal her whereabouts from Harrold? Does she think the doctor won't understand? Why is she resigned to the fact that her husband will find her?

7. Mary and Harrold's colleagues are stunned to find out about the abuse. Do they believe Mary's story? We find out later that Mary's former colleagues had thought she was very talented and could have had a bright career. Does Mary recognize her own talents? Was she too honest to "make it" as a journalist? Does she see Helen as the person she was never able to become?

8. Helen Scofield remembers her father saying, "The reporter's job is simply to find its shape." Why isn't it this simple for Helen? Do you think that if a reporter changes a quote to make it sound better that he or she is doing something wrong? Helen admits to being the "storyteller." Can a journalist be a storyteller and still tell the truth? Why does Helen want Caroline to have her notes?

9. How does Helen's article compare to Mary's story? Helen writes about the sex games, which damages Mary's credibility. Does she really believe that Mary was a willing partner? Willis tells Helen he wants her to have "all the facts." She relies on Willis as a source even though she knows that Mary rejected his advances. Was this irresponsible reporting or was she trying to cover all the angles of the story? Do "the facts" necessarily represent the whole truth? Everett tells Helen about the woman with three breasts and emphatically asks her not mention it in her article, yet she does. What does this say about Helen and the media in general?

10. According to Helen's article, Mary contradicts herself in the courtroom. Is this because she feels guilty or responsible for her abusive marriage? After her first trial ends in a hung jury, why does she waive her right to a trial by jury? Wouldn't the women jurors have sympathized with her again? Was this a legal tactic or another act of self-destruction? Do you think Mary was justified in killing Harrold? Do you think Mary would be sentenced to prison today for this crime? How much did the suicide of Jack's wife hurt her case? Should Mary and Jack feel guilty for her death?

11. Helen tries to justify her article by explaining to Caroline how it was a different time. Do you agree? How much have times changed? Helen tells Caroline that she believes her mother was not responsible for any part of her victimization. Did she believe this at the time she wrote her article or did she become more aware about domestic violence issues over the years?

12. Can you forgive Helen for her ambition? Do you think Caroline feels like she deserves her money or does she simply need it? Caroline points out that her mother may have used Helen. Does Caroline know something or is she merely making a point? This novel raises important issues about the complexity of truth and the difficulty of finding it in the media. Can the truth ever be told from one person's point of view?

Copyright (c) 1999. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 41 )
Rating Distribution

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(22)

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(13)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 41 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 8, 2011

    great book

    one of my favorites by this author.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2010

    Great book,beautiful poem!

    Anita Shreve never lets me down! This book has it all: spousal abuse, escape, forbidden lover, murder,& suicide! The title is from a Wordsworth poem, I googled it, read it & cried. I loved this book!!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2007

    EXUBERANT

    Shreve has done it again... Astonishment and amazement will surround you in this very descriptive tale of marital vicissitude. The characters are superbly developed and the tale is quite realistic. If you have a penchant for suspense and turbulence, this is your stop to read the best. Bravo...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2004

    A True to Life Thriller.

    It is books like these that make you think twice about judging someone else and the circumstances in which they live. This is an amazing book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and you don't want to put down until you have read the very last page. I work with domestic violence victims, and this story rings true for all too many of them.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2002

    A Haunting Must Read

    This is the second book by Shreve that I have read and haven't been able to put down. I finished the book in an afternoon sitting(even taking it to dinner). The characters are excellently developed and yet questions still remain about each one. I completely recommend this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2000

    Engrossing

    This is an 'I can't put it down' type of book. The story is compelling and sucks you in from the first page and all you can think about is what will happen next. Definately recommended.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2013

    Surprisingly good

    Like many of her other books so picked this one on a whim and thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2011

    Excellent read

    I truly enjoyed this book. I would give it at least 4 stars!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2005

    Another great one by Shreve.

    I have read all but 2 of Anita Shreve's books and they are all great. This one is because of topic is different than her others but she addresses the topic in such a tasteful way and as a woman you can feel nothing but compassion for Mary/Maureen. I would highly recommend this book!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2004

    outstanding

    I was hesitant to read about domestic abuse, but gave it a try because a friend said it was one of her favorites. This book is so well written. I usually begin reading a book in the store, buy it, begin the next chapter at home and it's boring, but that is not the case with this book!! It is very good! It will keep you interested.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2003

    'Shouda - woulda - coulda'

    Afer reading Strange Fits of Passion, it should become clear to everyone that you cannot judge someone, or their actions, until you have 'walked in their shoes'. There were several different courses of action that Mary/Maureen could have taken. I felt she did not seek outside help because whe had been conditioned to feel that she was not worthy of anything better. There is no reality, only perception, and Mary/Maureen acted out of her perception of the situation. This is definitely a book worth reading. It deals with a distasteful subject matter in as tasteful a way as possible.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2003

    Couldn't Put the Book down

    This is the third book of hers i have read. I have trouble picking a favorite. She is a gifted writer. This story touched me in a way that most books dont. The attention to detail made me picture what she was going through. I would recommend this book to anyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2002

    Very atmospheric

    This was the last book of Shreve's that I read and I was surprised and delighted to find that I enjoyed it the most! It has a real sense of place - the description of the locality echoes in many ways the nature of the relationship described. It wasn't gruesome in it's description of the abuse, yet one could easily imagine and feel the horrors. After reading it, I got down the atlas to find out exactly where Maine is - not being from that side of the Atlantic!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2002

    A must read; very compelling story

    The beginning already portends the tragic ending. But you are just drawn to the story because you want to understand why and how. You can't help but feel sorry for Mary/Maureen, and feel disappointed when others view her as the guilty one, someone cheap and sleezy who was at fault despite her husband's physical and mental abuse, and how others try to benefit from her story. In any case, the way Shreve writes about domestic violence and how a woman covers it up and seeks means to improve her life and state of mind is very compelling. Also, the manner in which it is written (interview transcripts so you can get a sense of other people's point of view of the situation) makes the story and characters come to life (and you realize modern fiction is salvaged by great writers such as Shreve who can make fiction feel almost real). You don't have to be a woman to appreciate this novel. In fact, I think both genders should read it in order to have a better understanding of the thoughts and feelings of someone who is being abused and doesn't know how to confront the problem to the point that he/she may go to 'extremes' for fear of his/her own life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2002

    Gripping story, well told

    The writing is excellent, with different points of view being used to good effect. Having read fortune's rocks, there was a certain sense of a good writer being in a rut, repeating similar stories. Still, I read it in two days, it was hard to put down.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2001

    Brilliant

    This book is fantastic. I first read Fortunes Rock whilst on holiday and rushed to the bookstore on my return to buy the rest of her books. I couldn't put this one down! Will be reading A Pilots Wife next!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2001

    LOVE THIS BOOK!

    Anita Shreve is my new favorite author! I couldn't put this book down. Now I'm on line purchacing all of Anita's books that I haven't read yet. You GOTTA read this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2000

    Tragic & Compelling

    Loaned to me by a friend to fill layover time in an airport-almost missed my flight. I could not stop reading. I finished this book within a 24 hour period...my only regret is that it was over. A'must read'. This was my introduction to Anita Shreve. She leaves you with a feeling that you want more...the story stayed with me...I can't shake it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2013

    Wonderful book!

    Touches your heart from the start! Love the characters! Didn't want it to end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2003

    CAN'T PUT IT DOWN

    LIke her other novels, once you start reading Shreve's books, you can never put it down. I think this is a very engaging book. It is about a woman named Maureen English who was in an abusive relationship and one day, unable to stand the beatings anymore, she did what she should have done long ago--escape from her husband. She found herself, together with her baby daughter, arriving at a desolated fishing village and from there... you got to read it yourself, I don't wish to spoil anything for you. It's really about a book that tells you what a person in an extreme situation, feeling lonely and helpless, can be driven to do. But there's always someone out there who's happiness is to see someone's security blanket being torn away. And as fate has it, not every book has got a happy ending, neither does everyone's live is as smooth as you will like it to be.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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