Water – Themes

Water is a multi-faceted element in Anita Shreve’s novels. Many of Anita Shreve’s novels are set on the small stretch of beach front in mostly land-locked New Hampshire. An alluring and dangerous conditioning force, water both gives and takes away in Shreve’s novels.

Romantic and mysterious, many of the lovers in Anita Shreve’s books unite in or near the water; Olympia Biddeford finds love on the sand of Fortune’s Rocks, as does Sydney Sklar in Body Surfing. The water ignites erotic and dramatic tension when Sydney is anonymously groped as she is swimming in the ocean. Honora Beecher finds love, both sanctioned and illicit, on the sands of Ely Falls.

For others of Shreve’s characters, water is connected with tragedy. Jack Lyons (The Pilot’s Wife) is killed in a plane crash that occurs over the ocean, as is Thomas Janes’ daughter Billie (The Weight of Water) who drowns after falling off of a boat. In A Wedding in December, Agnes O’Connor, whose friend drowned during their senior year of high school, is writing a story about a tragic boat crash in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which killed or blinded over 2,000 innocent bystanders.

While dangerous, the seashore can also be a place of refuge for Shreve’s characters. Maureen English in Strange Fits of Passion finds comfort in the shore after escaping from her brutal marriage. Rosamund Biddeford visits Fortune’s Rocks annually because of the health-restoring aspects of sea air. Etna Bliss in All He Ever Wanted leaves her childhood home after the death of her mother to regroup with relatives by the sea.

Like the sea, many things in life are simultaneously dangerous and comforting. What is your sea?