It will likely take every little cell in my body to restrain myself from leaking any spoilers on this book I hope I have the willpower to contain myself throughout this post. You have been warned.
Everywhere hailed for its emotional intensity and unflagging narrative momentum, this magnificent novel transports us to the turn of the twentieth century, to the world of a prominent Boston family summering on the New Hampshire coast, and to the social orbit of a spirited young woman who falls into a passionate, illicit affair with an older man, with cataclysmic results.
Despite any negative comments about the behavior of the characters in this book, I did really enjoy this read. I found it more captivating that Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife. If I had to put a description to the type of captivation that was felt, I would say it was the train wreck sort. You see the tracks are damaged and you see the train coming at full speed, but you just can’t look away. Here comes Olympia and she’s going to crash hard.
The book begins in 1900. I admire authors who can spin a story from an era in which they did not exist. Even though many things were perceived differently at that time (examples: when a girl becomes a woman, when a woman should marry, how much older can a gentleman be to still acceptably court a younger woman), you will find characters are still astonished about this relationship.
After meeting the charming Dr. Haskell, the fifteen year old Olympia ‘falls madly in love’ with him as he does with her. The torrid love affair begins and before you know it they are copulating in his carriage, at his hotel room, in the marshes, in the unfinished cottage he is building for his wife and four children.
Did I mention the good doctor is forty one years old?
Yes, like most readers, this is where I found myself about to throw in the towel and say, “You have to be fucking kidding me.”
And somehow these two are completely shocked about how hurt everyone (her parents, his wife, his in-laws, his children) is when they discover Haskell has been playing doctor with the teenager. Everyone packs their bags and leaves from what I’m sure would be the worst summer vacation in history. I admit that I held on because of the Train Wreck Scenario. You can’t look away when this is going down. I spent twenty minutes telling my cat, “I saw this shit coming.”
As the book moves on from Olympia and Haskell’s affair, you follow as she tries to find some inner peace from her broken heart. At times, I wanted to high-five her and say, “Yeah, get your life back together!” Other times I wanted to jump in the pages and beat her with a frying pan because she was falling right back into a ridiculous rut.
When I finished reading this book, I consulted with other reviews that have been posted. I have to disagree with readers who said the love affair was not plausible or “what man would cheat on his wife with a fifteen year old.” I’m sure it happens more than we would ever want to know about. Yes, I strongly disagree with infidelity and forty one year old men having intercourse with fifteen year old girls. And do I think the characters were truly in love? Probably not. To enjoy a book doesn’t mean that you have to agree with every circumstance of the plot. I don’t know about you, but I occasionally like a book that ruffles my feathers.
An interesting fact I would like to mention before closing this review, Shreve has written four books that have taken place in the very same house. As I started reading Fortune’s Rocks, I noticed immediately that the summer cottage owned by Olympia’s family was the very same house that belonged to Kathryn in The Pilot’s Wife. They all take place at different periods in time. What an amazing idea! (Almost Stephen King-ish, dare I say?) I hope when I complete my You Bought It, You Read It Mission I can come back and read the other two books in that series.
Next On You Bought It, You Read It: Tell Me Where It Hurts, A Day of Healing, Humor and Hope In My Life As An Animal Surgeon by Nick Trout.