Paperback: Body Surfing, By Anita Shreve

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The Independent Culture

Over the course of 12 previous novels, Anita Shreve's heroines have sampled some of life's crueller blows. Sydney Sklar, the troubled protagonist of Body Surfing, is no exception. At the age of 29, Sydney has already been once divorced and once widowed. In an effort to "drift and heal", she takes a job as tutor to 18-year old Julie Edwards at her parents' beach house in New Hampshire. The house has featured in Shreve's previous novels, Fortune's Rocks, Sea Glass and The Pilot's Wife.Arriving to undermine Sydney's new-found equilibrium are Julie's two disturbingly restless older brothers. Both good-looking preppy professionals, one is an academic, the other a corporate realtor. Both seem attracted to Sydney, but after an afternoon watching her body surf, it's Jeff, the enigmatic elder sibling, who greets her from the surf with a dry towel.

Told in fragmentary paragraphs that intentionally wrong-step the reader, Shreve's ensuing drama is a polished performance of nuanced social observation, ersatz romance and cloying tragedy. Part-way through the narrative, Sydney, like the reader, is left reeling from an unexpected blow. Unnervingly philosophical about her fate, she has no alternative but to start over like "a lobster making its new shell." A novel that puts readers through the emotional wringer, only to leave them high and dry.