Shreve, Anita 1946–
Shreve, Anita 1946–
PERSONAL: Born 1946; daughter of an airline pilot and a homemaker; married John Osbourne (an insurance agent); two previous marriages failed. Education: Attended Tufts University. Hobbies and other interests: Knitting, architecture.
ADDRESSES: Home—Longmeadow, MA. Agent—Virginia Barber, 101 5th Ave., New York, NY 10003.
CAREER: Freelance journalist and short story writer; high school English teacher; Amherst College, Amherst, MA, instructor in creative writing; formerly deputy editor of Viva magazine, editor for US magazine, and special issue writer for Newsweek; spent three years as a journalist in Nairobi, Kenya.
AWARDS, HONORS: O. Henry Award, 1976, for "Past the Island, Drifting"; PEN/L. L. Winship Award, 1998; New England Book Award for fiction, 1998.
(With Patricia Lone) Working Woman: A Guide to Fitness and Health, Mosby (St. Louis, MO), 1986.
Remaking Motherhood: How Working Mothers Are Shaping Our Children's Future, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
Women Together, Women Alone: The Legacy of the Consciousness-Raising Movement, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
NONFICTION; WITH LAWRENCE BALTER
Dr. Balter's Child Sense: Understanding and Handling the Common Problems of Infancy and Early Childhood, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985.
Dr. Balter's Baby Sense, Poseidon Press (New York, NY), 1985.
Who's in Control?: Dr. Balter's Guide to Discipline without Combat, Poseidon Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Eden Close, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1989.
Strange Fits of Passion (New York, NY), 1991.
Where or When, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1993.
Resistance, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.
The Weight of Water, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
The Pilot's Wife, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1998.
Fortune's Rocks, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2000.
The Last Time They Met, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.
Sea Glass, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.
All He Ever Wanted, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2003.
Light on Snow, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2004.
A Wedding in December, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine, Seventeen, and Ball State Forum.
ADAPTATIONS: The Weight of Water was adapted as a film, written by Alice Arlen and Christopher Kyle, and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, for Lions Gate Films in 2002; The Pilot's Wife was adapted as a television movie, starring Christine Lahti.
SIDELIGHTS: Anita Shreve is the author of novels and nonfiction works highlighting women's issues and exploring themes of violence and loss. Her 1989 book Women Together, Women Alone: The Legacy of the Consciousness-Raising Movement is based on sixty-five interviews the author conducted with women, aged thirty-four to fifty-five, who were involved in the consciousness-raising movement of the early 1970s. Consciousness-raising, which Shreve abbreviates as "CR," involved small groups of women who discussed their feelings about being female in a male-dominated society and explored the oppression that had isolated them from one another. Shreve discusses the movement's history and its implications for women's lives. She attempted to learn how the women she interviewed had felt about the experience at the time, as well as what it means to them today. Shreve found that while they were involved in consciousness-raising, most of the women felt extremely passionate about it, believing it could change their lives in meaningful ways. When interviewed, however, most believed that the same problems still exist, and that some new ones—such as competition between women and the need for affordable, quality child care—have been added.
Many of the women with whom Shreve spoke are struggling: competing for jobs, trying to balance career and family, and feeling trapped by stringent beauty standards. Their new career opportunities have left them isolated and over-committed. Many are bitter toward the feminist movement, which, they say, promised changes that are still unrealized. The author, too, faults the feminist movement with ending women's isolation and then recreating it. As she writes in Women Together, Women Alone, "In preparing the ground for greater career opportunities," the movement "sowed the seeds of its own demise," in that "women who combine career and family life simply don't have any time left to devote to feminism or CR or activist issues." Critics appreciated Shreve's information concerning consciousness-raising groups, but some found her analysis flawed. Although New York Times Book Review contributor Alix Kates Shulman considered the author's presentation "balanced and lively," the reviewer disagreed with Shreve's conclusions, commenting that, "not the beleaguered women's movement but public institutions are responsible for the scandal of inadequate child care." Gayle Greene, writing in the Nation, called Shreve's interviews "fascinating," but felt that the author "attributes too much negative power to [consciousness-raising] and ends up blaming feminism for the faults of the system feminism is trying to change."
Shreve's first novel, Eden Close, deals with violence toward women in a nonpolitical manner. The main characters, Andrew and Eden, grew up living next door to one another in a farming community in upstate New York. The two were good friends as children, and as teenagers were on the verge of a potential love affair when Eden was raped by an intruder who permanently blinded her with gunshot. Her father was murdered by the same gun. While Andrew went on to college, marriage, and a career as an advertising executive in New York, Eden remained idle at home with her cruel mother. Now Andrew, divorced and in his mid-thirties, returns home for his own mother's funeral. He visits Eden and brings her gifts, and the two begin to rekindle their friendship while Andrew attempts to discover the identity of Eden's attacker. A Publishers Weekly reviewer lauded "Shreve's evocative prose and elegiac voice," while New York Times Books Review contributor Carolyn Banks commented that the work's "insights are keen, its language measured and haunting."
In her 1991 novel, Strange Fits of Passion, Shreve takes a different view of the subject of violence against women and also explores the issue of journalistic integrity. Intending to produce another nonfiction work, the author spent more than ten years conducting hundreds of interviews, many of which focused on women's issues. She was particularly drawn to the stories victims of domestic violence had shared with her. But when it came time to write the book, Shreve felt she could portray the facts about battered women more honestly by allowing a fictitious character to relate a set of experiences. The work begins with vague references to a woman's murder of her husband, who has physically and emotionally abused her. The events that led up to this act are then revealed in a series of transcripts narrated by different characters, including the accused woman, Maureen, and a reporter, Helen Scofield, who observes Maureen over a six-week period. Other characters introduce Maureen's husband Harrold, who repeatedly gets drunk, accuses Maureen of infidelity, brutalizes her, apologizes, and then repeats the cycle. Finally Maureen, accused of murder, escapes with their baby to St. Hilaire, a village in Maine, where she begins a new life under an assumed name and has a brief affair with a sympathetic lobsterman. Helen composes a magazine piece about Maureen's life, but the article conflicts with Maureen's version of the story. Appraising Strange Fits of Passion, reviewers praised Shreve's descriptive style, although some found the plot predictable and questioned the credibility of the characters' actions.
Throughout the remainder of the 1990s, Shreve published four novels that examine the themes of failed marriage and adultery from various perspectives. In many of them, as a Publishers Weekly critic noted in a review of All He Ever Wanted, "Shreve … reveal[s] an impeccably sharp eye and a generous sensitivity in describing the moment when a man and a woman become infatuated." Susan Isaacs, writing in the New York Times Book Review, described one of these books, Where or When, as "a novel of middle-aged obsession and lust in the most decorous literary fashion." Sian and Charles, both trapped in loveless marriages, rekindle a three-decade-old infatuation they experienced while adolescents at summer camp. Since they are both lapsed Catholics, guilt quickly becomes a part of their relationship. "In less skillful hands," observes Regina Weinreich in Washington Post Book World, "this material could yield up the worst sort of nostalgia." Shreve avoids this pitfall by the depth and subtlety of her portrayal. The perspective of the book shifts back and forth between the viewpoints of the two central characters, revealing their feelings about both their current affair and the past. As Isaacs notes, Sian and Charles "are not presented in isolation, enveloped by a cloud of concupiscence. Instead, they are placed against a richly drawn background that encompasses everything from the grim reality of a deteriorating economy to the thin black dirt of the Richards farm."
Shreve's Resistance takes place in Europe against the backdrop of World War II. Comparing the book to the works of writers Helen MacInnes and Erich Maria Remarque, Rollene Saal in the New York Times Book Review remarked: "We don't see much of this kind of romantic suspense anymore." The action of the plot concerns an American pilot, Ted Brice, who is downed over Nazi-occupied Belgium. Brice is saved, hidden, and nursed back to health by Claire Daussois, a member of the Belgian resistance movement. After Claire's husband Henri is captured by the Nazis, Shreve's theme of adultery surfaces again as Brice and Claire become lovers. "If this sounds familiar," Saal notes, "it doesn't matter…. Shreve adds subtle gray shadings to a familiar morality tale of good and evil, bravery and betrayal."
In The Weight of Water Shreve returns to New England to relate a dual story, both contemporary and historical. A photojournalist, Jean, is given the assignment to photograph the Isle of Shoals, off the New Hampshire coast, where an infamous nineteenth-century double murder took place. Traveling there on a sloop with her husband Thomas, their daughter, her brother-in-law and his girlfriend, Jean discovers firsthand documents that seem to contradict the jury's decision in the case. The narrative moves back and forth between Jean's unraveling of the historical truth and the stresses that threaten to envelop her modern-day marriage. Maureen McLane, in Chicago Tribune Books, called The Weight of the Water a "spare, tightly plotted and compactly written novel," while Susan Kenney of the New York Times Book Review praised it as "a cryptic long-lost narrative inside an impending family tragedy wrapped in a true-crime murder mystery framed by the aftermath of all of the above."
Like Resistance, Shreve's The Pilot's Wife begins with a downed aircraft, only in this case the setting is contemporary, the plane is a commercial jet, and no one survives the crash, which may have been an act of suicide on the part of the pilot. Kathryn Lyons is awakened by a phone call informing her that her husband Jack's plane has exploded off the coast of Ireland. In the subsequent investigation of the crash, Kathryn uncovers Jack's double life, including a mistress he kept in England. She also becomes romantically involved with one of the men investigating the incident. Noting Kathryn's failure to analyze "her own complicity" in "Jack's mendacity," Lucinda Ballantyne in the Boston Globe felt that The Pilot's Wife "doesn't know what it wants to be. Psychological study of a woman in crisis, or suspense romance?" On the other hand, Barbara Hoffert, in Library Journal, characterized the novel as "good solid reading for popular audiences."
In Fortune's Rocks, set at the turn of the twentieth century, Shreve returns "to her forte—a literary novel set in a historical framework," according to Beth Gibbs in Library Journal. The book takes its name from a small town in coastal New Hampshire, the town where, many years later, The Pilot's Wife is set. There a fifteen-year-old girl named Olympia and her family are spending their summer. Olympia meets a friend of her father's, John Haskell, an eminent physician, twenty-six years older than her and with a wife and four children. The two begin an affair, which goes horribly wrong when Olympia becomes pregnant. "As sexy as their taboo liaisons are," Gilbert Taylor and Donna Seaman wrote in Booklist, "Shreve is just as compelling in her descriptions of Olympia's solitary suffering in their aftermath." Because of the moral standards of the day, Olympia is forced to give the child up and is ostracized, but she eventually goes to court and fights to get her child back. "The level of suspense never falters," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, but it "becomes breathtaking" during this custody battle.
Sea Glass is set in the same house as The Pilot's Wife and Fortune's Rocks, in the year 1929. Twenty-year-old Honora has just married Sexton, a traveling salesman whom, she later discovers, is frequently dishonest. He lies to get them a mortgage for the run-down house, just before the bottom falls out of the stock market and their finances. Fortunately Sexton is able to get another job at the local textile mill, which thrusts the couple into a looming labor dispute. They begin holding union meetings at their house, which brings Honora in contact with an attractive, idealistic mill worker named McDermott. The two begin to fall in love, although McDermott, honorable as he is, does not want to admit that he is attracted to a married woman.
Reviewers particularly praised Shreve's supporting cast in Sea Glass, which include a Boston socialite named Vivian and young Alphonse, an eleven-year-old mill-worker whom McDermott takes under his wing. These "vibrant characters, coupled with a graceful writing style," as Nancy Pearl wrote in Library Journal, make Sea Glass "perfect for readers who appreciate multilay-ered stories with a social conscience." "This is one of Shreve's best," concluded a Publishers Weekly critic.
The Last Time They Met sees the return of Thomas from Shreve's earlier novel, The Weight of Water. The story moves backwards through time, telling of the passionate, lifelong love affair Thomas has had with fellow poet Linda Fallon, even though he has only encountered her infrequently. "While the backwards progression is confusing at times and can necessitate some rereading," Beth Gibbs noted in Library Journal, "it is time well spent." Linda and Thomas meet for the third time when they are both in their fifties, at a literary convention where they are both speaking. Their second encounter, described in the middle section of the book, took place in Africa when they were in their mid-twenties, and they first met as high-school students in Massachusetts in the mid-1960s. The couple's initial meeting is described in the final section, and the dark secret behind their affair is not revealed until the final page, although it is hinted at throughout. The secrets revealed at the end of the book "transform what could be merely an overwrought tale of middle-aged Romeo and Juliet into a much more complex work about the interconnection of love, loss, imagination, and art," commented Antioch Review contributor Rosemary Hartigan.
All He Ever Wanted is a rarity among Shreve's books, a tale told from the point of view of a man. In 1899 New England English professor Nicholas Van Tassel meets a woman named Etna Bliss and convinces her to marry him. She does not love him and resents the loss of her freedom, but her financial situation is precarious and there are practical benefits to the union. At the beginning of their relationship Nicholas is too obsessed with Etna to care that she does not love him as he loves her, but as their marriage progresses Nicholas's jealousy becomes more and more of an issue. Desperate to regain some fragment of her former independence, Etna secretly uses a small inheritance she has received to buy a tiny house of her own, and this act, which Nicholas sees as utter betrayal, pushes him over the edge. Nicholas narrates this story in retrospect, "in the stilted and somewhat formal language of a pompous English professor," as Joanne Wilkinson noted in Booklist. In addition, explained a Kirkus Reviews critic, "Shreve lets her narrator damn himself by his own sanctimonious words."
Although she began as a journalist, "fiction is, and always has been, my first love," Shreve told Writer interviewer Robert Allen Papinchak. "I consider myself a better writer as a fiction writer, even though I have used a number of journalistic techniques in my fiction: shaping a story, trying to have a captivating first page, not being afraid of research."
Shreve's next novel, Light on Snow, portrays a widower and his young daughter who accidentally find an abandoned baby in the woods. The narrative is told from the point of view of the daughter as an adult, shifting frequently from past to present. It is also interesting to note that the book was quickly followed by the publication of Shreve's novel A Wedding in December, which relies more explicitly than its predecessor on the interplay between past and present. In it, a group of classmates who have not seen each other in decades meet for the wedding of a recently reunited school couple. The only person missing is Steven, who drowned during their senior year, and his absence is often obliquely alluded to by members of the party. According to Library Journal contributor Bette-Lee Fox, all of the "many what-ifs and might-have-beens" related to Steven's death and to the various missed opportunities for love between the classmates "come to a head" as the story progresses. Shreve creates "characters who are entirely convincing in their portrayals of human fallibility," Kim Dare commented in School Library Journal. Numerous other critics praised Shreve's skillful renderings. Indeed, a Kirkus Reviews writer particularly noted that the novel is "an impressive display of literary talent from Shreve."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Shreve, Anita, Women Together, Women Alone: The Legacy of the Consciousness-Raising Movement, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Antioch Review, spring, 1998, John Taylor, review of The Weight of Water, p. 243; winter, 2002, Rosemary Hartigan, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 163.
Atlanta Constitution, June 24, 1993, p. E6.
Atlantic, April, 2001, review of The Last Time They Met, pp. 105-106.
Book, March, 2001, E. Beth Thomas, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 78; May-June, 2002, Beth Kephart, review of Sea Glass, p. 78; March-April, 2003, Adam Langer, "What Lies Beneath: For Novelist Anita Shreve, Passion and Turmoil Simmer underneath Seemingly Unremarkable Exteriors," pp. 50-51.
Booklist, March 15, 1993, Denise Perry Donavin, review of Where or When, p. 1276; April 1, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of Resistance, p. 1379; January 1, 1997, Emily Melton, review of The Weight of Water, p. 822; May 1, 1998, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Pilot's Wife, p. 1504; August, 1999, review of The Pilot's Wife, p. 2025; October 1, 1999, Donna Seaman and Gilbert Taylor, review of For-tune's Rocks, p. 308; August, 2000, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. 2164; February 1, 2001, Marlene Chamberlain, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 1020; October 1, 2001, Joyce Saricks, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 343; February 15, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Sea Glass, p. 971; February 1, 2003, Joanne Wilkinson, review of All He Ever Wanted, p. 956.
Boston Globe, May 10, 1998, p. F2.
Detroit Free Press, April 5, 2002, Emiliana Sandoval, review of Sea Glass; April 11, 2003, Emiliana Sandoval, review of All He Ever Wanted.
Entertainment Weekly, April 27, 2001, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, "Past Imperfect: Acclaimed Writers Anita Shreve and Louise Erdrich Revisit Familiar Terrain, but Only Erdrich Finds Her Way," p. 110.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2002, review of Sea Glass, pp. 136-137; February 1, 2003, review of All He Ever Wanted, pp. 175-176; August 1, 2004, review of Light on Snow, p. 712; August 15, 2005, review of A Wedding in December, p. 879.
Kliatt, May, 2003, Sherri Forgash, review of Sea Glass, p. 21; July, 2003, review of The Weight of Water, p. 5.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, December 22, 1999, Nancy Klingener, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. K2277.
Library Journal, May 15, 1985, Jo Kibbee, review of Dr. Balter's Baby Sense: Understanding and Handling the Common Problems of Infancy and Early Childhood, p. 68; October 1, 1986, Carol Spielman Lezak, review of Working Woman: A Guide to Fitness and Health, p. 105; May 15, 1987, Janice Arenofsky, review of Remaking Motherhood: How Working Mothers Are Shaping Our Children's Future, p. 89; June 1, 1989, Barbara Bibel, review of Women Together, Women Alone: The Legacy of the Consciousness-Raising Movement, pp. 132-133; August, 1989, Heidi Schwartz, review of Eden Close, p. 166; May 15, 1995, Kathy Ingels Helmond, review of Resistance, p. 98; October 15, 1996, Starr E. Smith, review of The Weight of Water, p. 91; March 15, 1998, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Pilot's Wife, p. 96; November 1, 1999, Beth Gibbs, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. 125; March 15, 2000, Rochelle Ratner, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. 145; February 15, 2001, Beth Gibbs, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 203; March 15, 2002, review of Sea Glass, p. 110; March 15, 2003, Nanci Milone Hill, review of All He Ever Wanted, p. 117; September 1, 2005, Bette-Lee Fox, review of A Wedding in December, p. 134.
Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2002, Carmela Ciuraru, review of Sea Glass, p. E3.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 19, 1997, p. 7.
Nation, April 29, 1991, Gayle Greene, review of Women Together, Women Alone, pp. 562-567.
New York Times, August 25, 1989, Michiko Kakutani, review of Eden Close, p. B7, p. C30; June 6, 1993, p. 50; May 14, 1995, p. 17; January 19, 1997, p. 30; December 9, 1999, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. B11; April 19, 2001, Janet Maslin, review of The Last Time They Met, p. B9; April 8, 2002, Janet Maslin, review of Sea Glass, p. B6.
New York Times Book Review, August 13, 1989, Alix Kates Shulman, review of Women Together, Women Alone, p. 10; September 3, 1989, Carolyn Banks, review of Eden Close, p. 6; June 6, 1993, Susan Isaacs, review of Where or When, p. 50; May 14, 1995, Rollene Saal, review of Resistance, p. 17; January 19, 1997, Susan Kenney, review of The Weight of Water, p. 30; June 7, 1998, Laura Jamison, review of The Pilot's Wife, p. 37; December 26, 1999, Alberto Mobilio, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. 21; April 22, 2001, Tom Shone, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 34; June 2, 2002, review of Sea Glass, p. 24; January 26, 2003, Scott Veale, review of Sea Glass, p. 28.
People, April 15, 1991, Joanne Kaufman, review of Strange Fits of Passion, p. 26; June 14, 1993, Louisa Ermelino, review of Where or When, p. 41; January 1, 2000, Jill Smolowe, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. 41; May 7, 2001, Erica Sanders, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 47; April 15, 2002, Michelle Vellucci, review of Sea Glass, p. 43; April 28, 2003, Michelle Vellucci, review of All He Ever Wanted, p. 43.
Psychology Today, October, 1987, Beryl Lieff Benderly, review of Remaking Motherhood, pp. 69-70.
Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1985, Genevieve Stut-taford, review of Dr. Balter's Baby Sense, p. 76; July 18, 1986, Penny Kaganoff, review of Working Woman, p. 76; March 13, 1987, Genevieve Stut-taford, review of Remaking Motherhood, p. 79; December 11, 1987, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Who's in Control? Dr. Balter's Guide to Discipline without Combat, p. 54; July 7, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of Eden Close, p. 47; January 25, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of Strange Fits of Passion, pp. 47-48; April 12, 1991, Christina Frank, "Anita Shreve: Her Nonfiction Books Have Feminist Themes, but in Fiction She Portrays Women as Victims," pp. 40-41; March 22, 1993, review of Where or When, p. 68; March 6, 1995, review of Resistance, p. 57; October 14, 1996, review of The Weight of Water, p. 61; March 16, 1998, review of The Pilot's Wife, p. 52; September 13, 1999, John F. Baker, "Shrevetide," p. 14; Octo-ber 4, 1999, p. 61; November 1, 1999, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. 47; January 3, 2000, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. 40; March 19, 2001, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 74; February 11, 2002, review of Sea Glass, p. 160; August 5, 2002, review of Sea Glass, pp. 26-27; March 17, 2003, review of All He Ever Wanted, p. 50; April 28, 2003, Daisy Maryles and Dick Donahue, "Anita Turns Ten," p. 22; September 20, 2004, review of Light on Snow, p. 44.
School Library Journal, November, 2005, Kim Dare, review of A Wedding in December, p. 182.
Spectator, May 18, 2002, Sara Maitland, review of Sea Glass, p. 45.
Times Literary Supplement, January 17, 1992, Glyn Brown, review of Strange Fits of Passion, p. 23; February 11, 2000, Stephen Henighan, review of Fortune's Rocks, p. 21; March 23, 2001, Sylvia Brownrigg, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 12; April 5, 2002, review of Sea Glass, p. 26; July 18, 2003, Sara K. Crangle, review of All He Ever Wanted, p. 23.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 19, 1997, p. 1.
Washington Post, January 23, 1997, p. D2.
Washington Post Book World, August 29, 1993, p. 6; May 6, 2001, Susan Dooley, review of The Last Time They Met, p. 8.
Writer, November, 2001, Robert Allen Papinchak, review of "Testing the Water" (interview), p. 26.
Time Warner Web Site, http://www.twbookmark.com/ (August 13, 2004).