A young and successful journalist working in New York, Maureen English appears to have the perfect life and family. But Maureen's husband, a highly respected fellow reporter, has in private a tendency towards alcohol and violent abuse. When the situation at home becomes intolerable, Maureen takes her baby daughter and flees. In a Maine fishing town she assumes a new identity and spends six weeks battling sub-zero temperatures, the intrusive glare of the townsfolk - and her fears of discovery.
Against the force of the wintry sea- the cawing of the gulls, the lobstermen hauling their catch, the press of waves against the rocks - Maureen settles into the rhythms of a new life. Two married men pursue her, and one captures her heart. But this calming respite ends suddenly, leaving in its wake a murder, a rape charge, a suicide and a helpless child.
Nearly nineteen years later, a cache of documents regarding Maureen English - abused, accused and imprisoned - are given to her daughter by the journalist who made her name reporting the case. The truth should lie within them, but the papers raise far more questions than they answer...
As she did in her first novel, Eden Close , Shreve opens this absorbing story with oblique hints of a violent event--here a murder committed by a woman in response to domestic abuse--then segues to flashbacks that slowly reveal the circumstances leading up to it. A reporter who wrote a book about the crime shares her notes, presented in alternating versions and voices. Most affecting is the voice of the accused woman, who flees Manhattan with her six-month-old daughter to seek sanctuary in a coastal Maine village where she is protected by the clannish but sympathetic townspeople. She finds temporary solace in an affair with a sensitive lobsterman, but is betrayed to her husband by another man out of jealousy. Shreve is particularly effective in evoking the landscape and atmosphere of a close-knit community and the authentic vernacular of its nicely differentiated inhabitants. Her elegiac, portentous prose provides effective pacing. The novel's main drawback, however, lies in its predictability, and in the lack of credibility for the heroine's violent act, faults Shreve somewhat overcomes by raising the question of journalistic integrity (did the reporter alter her notes?) and the possibility that the accused woman's account might have contained deliberate falsehoods. In spite of its superficialities, however, the novel is often insightful and moving.