Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Body Surfing - Anita Shreve




Body Surfing
Anita Shreve
Little, Brown and Company

Women’s Fiction

At the age of 29, Sydney Sklar has been divorced once and widowed once. After the tragedy of her second husband’s death, Sydney finds that she is unable to complete her own studies, and subsists on a series of unrelated jobs acquired for her by well-meaning and well-connected friends. When the story begins, Sydney is living in a beach house, working as a live-in tutor for 18-year-old Julie Edwards. Sydney’s job, as explained by Mrs. Edwards, is to prepare Julie for her senior year in high school and matriculation to a first-class college. Julie is a lovely and sweet girl, but intellectually slow; her mother’s wishes notwithstanding, Julie simply cannot succeed in a college setting.

The arrival of Julie’s adult brothers changes the feeling and rhythms of the days; it changes the dynamics of those living in the beach house. Jeff, a political science professor, expects his girlfriend, Vicki, to arrive soon. Ben, in corporate real estate, puts Sydney on her guard. The three (Jeff, Sydney, and Ben) go bodysurfing one night, and Sydney is sure that Ben groped her during the swim. Trying to maintain distance in a beach house with a revolving guest list isn’t easy.

As the summer progresses, Sydney makes extraordinary discoveries about Julie’s abilities and fears, and wonders at the family who would allow such things to go unnoticed. At the same time, she envies the Edwards their sense of family and feels like the perpetual outsider. She doesn’t seem to realize that any family unit comes with its own unique set of tensions. When a traumatic event pulls Sydney closer into the family fold, she realizes that this may be a double-edged sword.

The novel is written entirely in present tense, and uses mostly set pieces to tell the story. While this makes for a somewhat disjointed reading experience, it mirrors Sydney’s fractured emotional state. Told in small bites, with no extraneous descriptive passages, the narrative seems superficial at first. But, I believe this was entirely intentional, as it echoes the way the characters display mainly surfaces; only digging deeper when forced to do so. Even without long descriptions, the author is able to perfectly evoke the time, the place, and the characters who are content to let social convention stand in for true interaction.

Rating: 7
May 2007
ISBN# 0-316-05985-4 (hardcover)

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