Williams' expansive melodrama of unrequited love is a compendium of women trapped by their time and their assumptions of love and marriage which makes them clash with the reality of the world around them. Alternating between 1966 and the mid-1930s--the years leading up to World War II--young debutante Pepper Schuyler and wealthy socialite and cellist Annabelle Dommerich
form a connection. Their particular needs are accented by Pepper’s sudden pregnancy from an “irresistible man” and by a vintage Mercedes which Pepper finds in
her sister's shed.
Pepper has placed the car,
restored to its former glory, up for auction. She is contacted by Annabelle, who wants to buy the car.
She whisks the younger girl off to Palm Beach while she tells Pepper about her husband, her children, and--most importantly--how she drove the Mercedes across Germany twenty-eight years ago. Annabelle talks
of the Ritz and other grand hotels of Europe, and about a going-away party in Antibes in 1935.
There, among rich American artists and poor English aristocrats, her brother Charles introduced her to Johann von Kleist, a German
army general and Junker Baron.
Forced by Charles to use her nursing skills to help a friend who has suffered a terrible gunshot wound, Annabelle meets the man who will become her one true love: Stefan Silverman. After saving his life and nursing him back to health, she spends long hours on Stefan’s beautiful yacht.
She ends up falling in love with this dark-haired, talented man who is well-read and well-spoken yet riddled with “mysterious midnight bullets.” Annabelle
has no idea what has happened, but she is determined to discover sex and love, at first enjoying a short dalliance with this handsome Jew who brings light into her otherwise sheltered life. In the south of France, in the middle of the hottest August in memory, nineteen-year-old Annabelle realizes
that she’s crazy about Josef: “We were right by the sea. I thought I was in heaven.”
Annabelle is lazily unaware of the perverse universe as the Mediterranean glitters and heaves around her. At first,
she is oblivious to the tragedy to come: Germany’s Kristallnacht and Hitler’s regime, where no one is who he seems and where Johann, a man of rules and consequence, becomes dogged in pursuit of his goal. Meanwhile, the ever-biddable Pepper is determined to survive by her wits, at first attempting to dodge the man who got her pregnant. Accepting Annabelle’s invitation to live in her guest cottage at Cocoa Beach, Pepper finds herself overwhelmed by reality. She still believes in independence and calling the shots and “keeping your eyes open.”
She knows men only as cads (“this unwed mother on the run in need of a little extra insurance”), until Annabelle tells Pepper of how true love cemented the great sacrifices that
she and Josef made.
Though Pepper’s voice is feisty and gives us a more modern take on motherhood (at least from the standpoint of 1966), Annabelle’s cello-playing history truly drives the narrative. From fame and fortune and forbidden passions to the rare black Mercedes fleeing into the German night to a shed on Cape Cod, the author unfurls a decidedly feminine story.
It is laced, nonetheless, with the violence and bigotry of Johann’s surprising loyalty and the horrifying inevitability of Annabelle's affair with Stefan, a man forbidden, rebellious, and dangerous, a man who is perhaps the author of his own suffering. Johann, meanwhile, gets no more than he deserves for being a loyal husband to Annabelle.
Although the novel too often seethes with over-the-top melodrama, Williams’ style is always bright and cinematic as she weaves Germany’s slow, rumbling violence into Annabelle and Pepper’s respective lives and loves. Eventually revealing the truth of Annabelle and Josef’s painful sacrifice, Along the Infinite Sea is a engaging tale of likable people seeing their lives destroyed then, remarkably, remade.