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.
The time is the turn of the last century, the setting a rocky New Hampshire coastline resort area nicknamed "Fortune's Rocks." Olympia Biddeford, age 15, is walking the beach, feeling the first stirrings of her womanhood. The strong-willed daughter of an upstanding Boston couple, she soon "learns of desire" as she begins a passionate affair with a married writer, John Haskell, three times her age. From the moment they meet (he is a visiting friend of her father's), they experience a sexual spark--Olympia feels "liquid" in his presence. Soon, they fall into sinful trysting. Shreve (The Pilot's Wife) serves up these opening events with breathless immediacy. Once the plot gets a chance to develop--Olympia gets pregnant, gives up child, fights to get child back--it settles down considerably, turning into a modernized The Scarlet Letter, a tale of a woman attaining feminist independence by living outside her period's societal mores. Reading, Brown (of TV's The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd) clearly has the most fun at the beginning, where the story's real heat and flushed excitement pours out. Listeners, too, may grow colder as the plot loses its torrid, forbidden edge. Based on the 1999 Little, Brown hardcover.