Back Bay, 2004 (2002)
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
nita Shreve touches on a variety of very different characters as lightly as her sea breezes blow around the abandoned house on the New Hampshire coast, that is the focus of
. Indeed she wrote two previous novels '
on the lives that weave in and out of an antique house
The Pilot's Wife
- and shares the '
collision of ideas
' that inspired her latest work in
The Origins of Sea Glass
he reader enters the abandoned house along with its newly-wed renters, Honora and Sexton Beecher. It is easy to identify with Honora, and also to wonder what led her to drift into marriage with a well-oiled typewriter salesman. The other main characters are gently introduced. Francis is the 11-year-old, hard working and loving son in a family of almost destitute mill workers. They barely scrape by at the best of times, which this is not. Irish loom fixer McDermott is almost deaf from the constant noise of the mills. He gives half his pay to his 19-year-old sister, who is bringing up his younger siblings on her own. Vivian is a rich and independent summer visitor from Boston; frivolous on the surface, but with hidden depths.
ough times are ahead for all. Sexton obtains a mortgage, and lies in order to obtain an additional bank loan, needed to buy the rented house. When the stock market crashes and the Great Depression looms, he loses his job and is forced to work in a menial position at the mill. Conflict is brewing between mill workers, stirred up by the unions, and owners, who do not hesitate to use violence. A series of events lead to Honora's home being used as a safe house for union planning. Honora, Sexton, McDermott, Francis (through friendship with McDermott) and Vivian (who has become close to Honora and shares her passion for sea glass) all become embroiled in events leading up to the strike.
was somewhat indifferent to these characters at the beginning, but they sneaked up and grabbed my interest as the story developed to a powerful climax. The light sea breezes, with which the author touched her characters, grew into strong winds of change that buffeted them, just as sea glass itself is transformed and changed in the ocean depths.
is a lovely period piece, as delicate and polished as the colorful remnants of lives, for which it is named.
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