The Weight of Waterby Anita Shreve
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… See more details below
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.
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The Weight of Water
By Anita Shreve
Little Brown & CompanyCopyright © 1997 Anita Shreve
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI 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.
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.