A Student of Living Things
Susan Richards Shreve
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Buy *A Student of Living Things* by Susan Richards Shreve online

A Student of Living Things
Susan Richards Shreve
256 pages
May 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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The novel is set in the future, long after 9/11, the country coexisting uncomfortably with the threat of terrorism, frequently lapsing into paranoia, small revolutions and random violence. Political unrest is endemic as the National Guard roams the streets of Washington, DC, where the story takes place.

The heart of the Frayn family is centered in their home; brother and sister, Steven and Claire, are inseparable, best friends. Steven, a law student, is articulate and motivated, writing critical op-ed articles on the state of the country post-/11. When Steven is shot and killed on the steps of George Washington University, Claire, a biologist, is only a few steps away.

The family is devastated by the loss. Steven’s death is a terrible shock, almost impossible to fathom for this close-knit group, each of them struggling to acknowledge the reality of their changed world and that safety exists only in the imagination.

In this touching tale, tenderness is found in the midst of grief, hope surfacing unexpectedly, Claire’s intuition as a scientist eventually rescuing her from the emotions that have propelled her, assumptions she has accepted without question in the wake of Steven’s death: “The mind… is a curious thing, the way it grips the tracks once it’s on course.”

Through the months of mourning, Claire feels Steven’s absence grievously but is heartened when she discovers an opportunity to set things right, perhaps even the score for the loss of her brother. Casting aside a pervasive melancholy, Claire embraces life with the same enthusiasm she knew when her brother was still alive, only to learn a terrible lesson: “Sadness has the weight of nothing else I know.”

A luminous love story in the heart of chaos sees Claire thrust into the unfamiliar territory of emotional conflict. Yet survive she does, thanks to the guidance and patience of eccentric parents and extended family, a desert bloom in the arid wasteland of a world that has lost its bearings under the assault of threat and intimidation.

The story is charged with undefined menace, the plot further complicated by a surprising twist, where hope surfaces in spite of imminent danger. Shreve’s characters are carefully nuanced, striving to remain strong while recognizing that only time and love can heal some wounds.

The author has fashioned an unusual tale of familial love, loss and betrayal, the Frayn family fracturing after Steven’s murder, yet moving closer, each in his own way to repair the damage of their loss and redefine their commitment. A Student of Living Things is a reflection on modern times, where invincibility has given way to vulnerability, the human spirit indomitable and victorious in the face of fear.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2006

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