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.
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.
Read an Excerpt
The Weight of Water
By Anita Shreve
Little Brown & Company Copyright © 1997 Anita Shreve
All right reserved.
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.
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.