Shreve skims the surface of her latest novel, toying with the contradictions of a young woman’s attraction to two brothers and their family’s response to the unexpected events triggered by her presence.
At twenty-nine, Sydney has already experienced more than her share of life’s difficulties. A divorcee and recent widow, Sydney thinks her life’s path is ordained until her husband dies suddenly, leaving her once more alone and unmoored. Unable to settle into an unaccommodating future, Sydney accepts a temporary position as the summer tutor of an eighteen-year-old woman, Julie Edwards, Sydney’s title loosely defined: part servant, part family member.
The Edwards family have adjourned from their Boston home to the New Hampshire coast, where their cottage affords restful days of body surfing, seaside barbeques and long walks along the shore. Everyone seems content in their summer euphoria, Mrs. Edwards distant, yet civil, Mr. Edwards tending his amazing rose garden at the edge of the sea. Her days only partially filled with Julie’s studies, Sydney has ample time to indulge in her own pursuits, finding serenity on the shore that has been unavailable in the city.
It is only when Julie’s older brothers, Jeff and Ben, come to New Hampshire to visit that the family dynamic is thrown off kilter by the immediate attraction between Sydney and Jeff. Even though younger brother Jeff has a girlfriend, he is quickly absorbed in the challenge of seducing the attractive Sydney in spite of his mother’s discomfort.
Unaware of a long competition between the two brothers, Sydney allows herself to fall in love with the enterprising Jeff, who rids himself of his girlfriend and declares his love for Sydney. The family is forced to accept the changed circumstances, but a drama ensues when Julie suddenly disappears. Julie’s misadventures draw them all back together for a time, but the conflict between the brothers remains unresolved until just before Sydney’s marriage to Jeff, planned at the beach cottage.
It is on the New Hampshire coast that Sydney must face the consequences of her impulsive choice, on the eve of her marriage confronting the realities of impulsive behavior and misreading the language of love.
While this novel fails to transport the reader as previous novels so often do (The Weight of Water), Shreve remains the inimitable storyteller with a talent for observing the minutiae of life, her prose rising above a predictable plot.