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The Weight of Water

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Overview

On a small island off the New Hampshire coast in 1873, two women were brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. A third woman survived the attack, hiding in a sea cave until dawn. More than a century later, a photographer, Jean, comes to the island to shoot a photo-essay about the legendary crime. Immersing herself in accounts of the lives of the fishermen's wives who were its victims, she becomes obsessed with the barrenness of these women's days: the ardor-killing labor, the long stretches of loneliness, the ...
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The Weight of Water

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Overview

On a small island off the New Hampshire coast in 1873, two women were brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. A third woman survived the attack, hiding in a sea cave until dawn. More than a century later, a photographer, Jean, comes to the island to shoot a photo-essay about the legendary crime. Immersing herself in accounts of the lives of the fishermen's wives who were its victims, she becomes obsessed with the barrenness of these women's days: the ardor-killing labor, the long stretches of loneliness, the maddening relentless winds that threatened to scour them off the rocky island. How could a marriage survive those privations? Was this misery connected to the killings? Jean's marriage is enduring heavy weather of its own. On the boat she has chartered for this project, she and her husband are falling apart. Their nights are full of drink and terrible silences, and Jean feels jealousy and distrust invading her life and her work. The forces that blasted the island a century earlier come alive inside Jean, bringing her to the verge of actions she never dreamed herself capable of - with no idea whether her choices will destroy all she has ever valued or bring her safely home.

A riveting and deeply involving story of irresistible emotions and irrevocable actions, by the author of Eden Close. A century after two women were murdered in a fit of passion on a small island off the coast of New Hampsire, another woman goes to the island to shoot a photo essay about the crime--and finds herself gripped by uncontrollable passions of her own.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1873, two women living on the Isles of Shoals, a lonely, windswept group of islands off the coast of New Hampshire, were brutally murdered. A third woman survived, cowering in a sea cave until dawn. More than a century later, Jean, a magazine photographer working on a photoessay about the murders, returns to the Isles with her husband, Thomas, and their five-year-old daughter, Billie, aboard a boat skippered by her brother-in-law, Rich, who has brought along his girlfriend, Adaline. As Jean becomes immersed in the details of the 19th-century murders, Thomas and Adaline find themselves drawn together-with potentially ruinous consequences. Shreve Where or When; Resistance perfectly captures the ubiquitous dampness of life on a sailboat, deftly evoking the way in which the weather comes to dictate all actions for those at sea. With the skill of a master shipbuilder, Shreve carefully fits her two stories together, tacking back and forth between the increasingly twisted murder mystery and the escalating tensions unleashed by the threat of a dangerous shipboard romance. Written with assurance and grace, plangent with foreboding and a taut sense of inexorability, The Weight of Water is a powerfully compelling tale of passion, a provocative and disturbing meditation on the nature of love.
Library Journal
Professional photographer Jean thinks her latest assignment on New England's Isle of Shoals is a good chance to combine work with a family getaway. Her mistake is soon clear. Tensions build among the five passengers on a relative's sailboat as she begins to question her husband's relationship with a beautiful young woman. While researching the 1873 double murder of two Norwegian immigrants, Jean discovers a heretofore unknown diary kept by Maren Hontvedt, lone survivor of the mayhem. In separate chapters Maren passionately recounts the grisly events, while Jean finds a peculiar resonance between Maren's situation and her own, leading inexorably to a terrible denouement. Shreve Resistance, LJ 5/15/95 moves the action along deftly, and if plot details sometimes veer perilously close to soap opera, the level of writing is far above the typical best-seller treatment of similar themes. A good choice for libraries where fiction readers want historical drama and family suspense. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/96.]Starr E. Smith, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, Va.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316780377
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 1/7/1998
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 179,467
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Anita Shreve
Anita Shreve
A novelist who combines sweepingly romantic plots with a keen understanding of the emotional complexities inherent in any relationship, Anita Shreve is a writer who understands the subtleties of the human mind, and heart.

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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Read an Excerpt

The Weight of Water


By Anita Shreve

Little Brown & Company

Copyright © 1997 Anita Shreve
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0316780375


Chapter One

I have to let this story go. It is with me all the time now, a terrible weight.

I sit in the harbor and look across to Smuttynose. A pink light, a stain, makes its way across the island. I cut the engine of the small boat I have rented and put my fingers into the water, letting the shock of the cold swallow my hand. I move my hand through the seawater, and think how the ocean, this harbor, is a repository of secrets, its own elegy.

I was here before. A year ago. I took photographs of the island, of vegetation that had dug in against the weather: black sedge and bayberry and sheep sorrel and sea blite. The island is not barren, but it is sere and bleak. It is granite, and everywhere there are ragged reefs that cut. To have lived on Smuttynose would have required a particular tenacity, and I imagine the people then as dug in against the elements, their roots set into the cracks of the rocks like the plants that still survive.

The house in which the two women were murdered burned in 1885, but when I was here a year ago, I photographed the footprint of the house, the marked perimeter. I got into a boat and took pictures of the whitened ledges of Smuttynose and the black-backed gulls that swept and rose above the island in search of fish only they could see. When I was herebefore, there were yellow roses and blackberries.

When I was here before, something awful was being assembled, but I didn't know it then.

I take my hand from the water and let the drops fall upon the papers in the carton, dampened already at the edges from the slosh. The pink light turns to violet.

Sometimes I think that if it were possible to tell a story often enough to make the hurt ease up, to make the words slide down my arms and away from me like water, I would tell that story a thousand times.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve Copyright © 1997 by Anita Shreve
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 82 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(30)

4 Star

(19)

3 Star

(22)

2 Star

(5)

1 Star

(6)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 82 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 15, 2009

    Unsettling page turner

    I liked this book despite the emotional heaviness. It drew me in from the very start and was difficult to put down. The story and emotions stayed with me for days after I finished.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2008

    BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN

    Wonderful, heart-wrenching, gripping story. The way the narration intertwines makes it even more intriguing and mesmerizing. The prose reads like poetry and this has become one of my favorite books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2006

    Perfect

    This was a wonderful story that dipped from the present to the past, and excavated an old mystery - one that actually occurred.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2014

    This book is heavy, but any book that makes me feel more appreci

    This book is heavy, but any book that makes me feel more appreciative of my family and more aware of the experience I'm living this lifetime is worth reading. Completely heart wrenching and hard to put down. One of my favorite from Shreve - top three and I've read them all.

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  • Posted October 21, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A nearly flawless novel. Contains all the elements necessary to

    A nearly flawless novel. Contains all the elements necessary to make it a good easy read, but yet it is multi-layered and deep beyond imagining. The two stories being told at the same time adds to the drama and eventual climax which is somewhat expected yet unexpected. This is truly Shreve's crowning achievement.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Tough to wade through

    Main character was selfish and unsympathetic, as well as irresponsible. Historical story was more engaging, but it just felt like too much work to slog through it all. Then with the expectedly "unexpected" twist at the end she lost me entirely - Main reaction was annoyance. Not a satisfying investment of time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2012

    Loved it!

    One of the best stories ever! A must-read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2012

    Anonymous

    Half way through this book, I knew I had made a mistake paying $10. This was the most confusing book I have ever read. Half the time I didn't know what time period the author was writing about. It was back and forth, back and forth. The past events were so intertwined with the present that I made no connection with any of the characters. What role did Adeline play other than her sexual relationship with Rich and flirting with Thomas? Jean and Thomas were so mismatched in their marriage, totally opposite personalities. The character of little Billie was the only thing that made this story bearable. Anita Shreve totally missed the mark on this book. What I fail to understand is all the raving reviews in the first few pages. Are they referring to this book!"
    Even if a book is not up to my style of writing, I'll still recommend it, but in this case I do not. This should be under the $5 and under book list.

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  • Posted August 29, 2011

    Headache ~~~~

    So during the Hurricane Irene, I thought let me pick up this book and start reading it. I belong to a book club and this was required. I tried 3X and I still could not get into it. I am sorry but I really have a tough time with this author.

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  • Posted September 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    not my favorite

    This book wasnt terrible but for me I could have done without the 2 stories. It annoyed me going back and forth back and forth and most of the part of the murders I just didnt read, it was boring too me untill they actually started talking about the murders, I would have rather read about the "real life part" and left out the boringness of the woman talking about her life and how she came to the island.

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  • Posted July 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Poignant story

    Very poignant story with interesting characters. A great read for book clubs and conversation.

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    GREAT WORK

    Anita Shreve has done a great job by combining different styles and the way she creates a weave in story telling.
    A Must Read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2006

    I was very pleased with this book.....

    I really enjoyed this book. I havnt read any other of Anita Shreves books but im planing on it. I loved how you could really tell the difference between Jean and Maren, they were two completly different people. I was happy with the way the book was set up, like it was two different books all in one but very related to eachother. For me the ending to both the womens stories was unexpected, but very good! I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2006

    An ending worthwhile

    While I struggled to get through the book, it did deliver at the end, leaving me in a state of shock. I feel it's worth the time put into it, as long as you finish.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2005

    Could not put it down or stop thinking about it after I was through.

    Anita Shreve is an incredibly talented author and The Weight of Water is her best book. I have read this book numerous times and each time I am enthralled. I highly, highly recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2005

    NOT HER BEST BOOK

    This book was a difficult book to get through. Some areas of the book were interesting however most of the book was slow.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2005

    didn't deliver

    I kept reading hoping something would make it worth it but it just didn't deliver the thrill that I was expecting. Overall, there was just way to much boring background then there were a couple of pages of suspense and then that was it.

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

    Posted October 11, 2005

    Boring

    It took alot to finish this book. Normally, I can finish a book in two, maybe three days, tops, but this one has me dragging it out. I wish I would have read the online reviews before buying this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2005

    Shameful

    Having grown up near the islands, the first thing that came to mind after reading this book was, 'What was the purpose of even claiming this novel had anything to do with the historical events?'. To anyone, save the paranoid, the historical facts weave as close to an open and shut case as there could ever be. In modern terms, the case was a slam dunk for the prosecution, and Wagner couldn't have been more easily convicted if he confessed. Instead of telling the true story of the murders, Shreve instead dismisses the proponderance of evidence against Wagner and asks us to believe that it is more probable that Maren was in love with her brother, and killed her own sister. She also ignored descriptions of the actual persons and re-creates each as a character that no where near resembles what is known about the true individual. Karen, for example, was highly thought of by Celia Thaxter, whome Karen worked for, and was described as a very affable person. John was a good husband, and he and Maren were known to be very much in love. Anethe was admired by all who knew her. Instead of telling the true story, Shreve changes the facts and demonizes the innocent victims while exhaulting the cold blooded killer as some sort of martyr. If Shreve actually believes this could be true, then she obviously did not do all of the research she claims to have done. Although this may appeal to some chronic armchair conspiracy theorists, it actually smears the reputation of good, albeit long dead, people, and eploits their tragedy to sensationalize it. My question to her would be, 'Why not simply change the names, not mention the actual murders, and promote the story as it really is; as pure fiction?'. Besides the problems I have with her shameful exploitation of this tragedy, the book has two other major shortcomings. First, Thomas is such an unsympathetic character, that one can scarcely believe any love could have ever existed between he and Jean. Furthermore, the ending, which was obviously meant to have an unexpected plot twist, instead seems completely off the wall and it is too hard to believe that such things could occur.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2004

    Couldnt put it down

    I have a one month old, but this story was so riveting I couldnt put it down. i found time to read at every nap. I love Anita Shreves' books, and this one definently kept me glued till the end.

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