I read this book ages ago. I don’t know why I’m just putting this up now. I read it in the summer. I would have a more insightful commentary if I had wrote something right after I read it, but here we are…
According to Instagram, the archive of record, I read this in Maine. I have a picture reading it outside my favorite Old Orchard Beach cafe. The only place I could find to get good coffee in OOB.
What’s kind of interesting, is that Lily Tuck lives in Maine and New York City and I can vaguely remember reading this book on the train into NYC so I feel like I got the full Lily Tuck experience reading this in both NYC and Maine. Although there is no Instagram evidence that I read it in the city and if it didn’t happen on Instagram, did it happen at all?
This is the shortest post I’ve ever written but I read the book too long ago to really write anything else. Oops.
I’m not sure why this book got such bad reviews. Maybe people were comparing it to one of her other books (Sarah’s Key) which was a New York Times bestseller. I enjoyed the book. The secret was unexpected.
I love Anita Shreve. I should preface this with that. I truly believe no one captures relationships the way she can. She evokes such realistic experiences that I find her books to be page-turners and un-put-down-able. She has an impressive canon of work (17 books if I counted correctly). And I haven’t read them all. I’m not a super fan, but I do have a fairly sizeable Shreve collection if I do say so myself (as pictured… twice. I couldn’t decide if they looked better stacked or flat).
Despite my enjoyment of Shreve, we hit a bit of a rough patch in our reader-author relationship. I struggled with Fortune’s Rocks last summer and after getting about halfway through, busy with grad school and wedding planning, I gave up on it. I read Rescue around Christmas, but I lost some vigour in my excitement to devour Shreve’s books. In addition, A Change in Altitude wasn’t overly well received. This was a reading risk. The LA Timeswas unkind in their review and GoodReads‘ reader generated reviews were mixed at best.
Some of the best books I have read have been penned by Shreve, so it was a calculated risk. On the other side of reading it, I must say, the critics of this book were tasteless. I couldn’t be more pleased with the decision to read it. It was fantastic. It read like life rather than a contrived plot. It was original and didn’t pull any punches. That’s one thing every critic must credit Shreve with: originality. Some authors write books as derivatives of one another and there’s nothing unique to one book over another but Shreve truly mixes it up. This Kenyan tale from the seventies was a complete departure from any of her other settings, though her hallmark universal interpersonal struggles remained the heart of her story.
The atmosphere was awe-inspiring at times and had a personality all its own, yet I certainly hope this book wasn’t financed by Tourism Kenya. I am not itching to visit the country after reading this novel. Like The Shipping News, there is a distinct struggle for survival against the elements. Canada and Africa seem like they couldn’t be more different but the landscapes function very similarly in literature. They are extreme and challenging places to live. Unlike softer, more developed settings, the element of survival is conceptual rather than literal.
The need for water in a Kenyan drought worked to emphasize how Margaret needed something to quench her internal emotional thirst. In the same vein, Quoyle’s need to fix up his old house to fight the strain of the elements worked to highlight his internal need to prepare himself for the emotional peril that he had faced his whole life. The physical and emotional forces work together in a powerful way in Shreve’s Kenya and Proulx’s Newfoundland. It is interesting how things can be so different but so the same.
Nairobi was such a unique, albeit challenging, setting that Shreve crafted vividly, but where this book truly shines is Shreve’s best asset: relationships. No one writes relationships like her.