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Strange Fits of Passion: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Anita Shreve
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The reader is left to uncover the truth in this labryinth of a tale, a riveting story told within the framework of one reporter's notes and a woman's letters from prison. Everyone believes that Maureen and Harrold English, two successful New York City journalists, have a happy, stable marriage. It's the early '70s and no one discusses or even suspects domestic abuse. But after Maureen suffers another brutal beating, she flees New York with her infant daughter and seeks refuge in a small coastal town in Maine. The weeks pass slowly, and just as Maureen begins to heal physically and emotionally, Harrold finds her, bringing the story to a violent, unforgettable end.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As she did in her first novel, Eden Close , Shreve opens this absorbing story with oblique hints of a violent event--here a murder committed by a woman in response to domestic abuse--then segues to flashbacks that slowly reveal the circumstances leading up to it. A reporter who wrote a book about the crime shares her notes, presented in alternating versions and voices. Most affecting is the voice of the accused woman, who flees Manhattan with her six-month-old daughter to seek sanctuary in a coastal Maine village where she is protected by the clannish but sympathetic townspeople. She finds temporary solace in an affair with a sensitive lobsterman, but is betrayed to her husband by another man out of jealousy. Shreve is particularly effective in evoking the landscape and atmosphere of a close-knit community and the authentic vernacular of its nicely differentiated inhabitants. Her elegiac, portentous prose provides effective pacing. The novel's main drawback, however, lies in its predictability, and in the lack of credibility for the heroine's violent act, faults Shreve somewhat overcomes by raising the question of journalistic integrity (did the reporter alter her notes?) and the possibility that the accused woman's account might have contained deliberate falsehoods. In spite of its superficialities, however, the novel is often insightful and moving.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Thrilling and finely written . . . Ms. Shreve renders the beleaguered woman's voice, and the voices of other townspeople, with the arresting clarity we ask of all good writing."-The New Yorker
"Shreve's prose is clear and compassionate, and her message moving."-The Washington Post Book World
"Superbly rendered . . . both touching and troubling. The box-within-a-box structure moves Shreve's subtle and searing book beyond the contemporary horror genre. It creates a kind of double novel."-Cosmopolitan

Product Details

  • File Size: 492 KB
  • Print Length: 351 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0156031396
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (November 11, 1999)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003WJQ6FE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,034 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
105 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Suspenseful and gripping May 15, 2000
Fans of Shreve's other novels, including The Pilot's Wife and The Weight of Water, will appreciate this earlier effort, which, like the others, combines mystery and marriage to create a suspenseful, intriguing story about trouble. Like Anna Quindlen's novel, Black and Blue, Strange Fits of Passion revolves around a young mother who has taken her child and fled an abusive husband to settle in a new community and begin life again under an assumed name. The similarities end there, however, as Shreve builds a more complex, thickly layered story that involves numerous points of view and dips in and out of the past without ever becoming confusing or dense. The novel begins with a magazine writer, Helen Scofield, traveling to a college dormitory to visit Caroline English, the daughter of writer Maureen English, a woman who, we soon learn, was imprisoned for murdering her allegedley abusive husband, Harrold, also a writer, many years earlier. Helen's visit is, ostensibly, to deliver to Caroline the letters and transcripts that she collected as she investigated the murder for an article she was writing. We read of the relationship between Maureen English and her husband from her own point of view--reports of the abuse she suffered, the life she led in the small Maine fishing village to which she fled, and, later, the details of the event that took her husband's life. Interspersed with her memories are the reports from various members of the fishing community she lived in--people who variously report on Maureen and her life there, and who hold her responsible for the crime to varying degrees. Finally, we read the article Helen wrote about Maureen English, her marriage, and her decision to kill her husband, and learn an entirely other lesson about what the truth is and what it means to tell the truth. This is a fascinating, engrossing story.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully crafted masterpiece. April 1, 2001
By mirope
Like many of Anita Shreve's novels, the structure of this book seems to have started as a writing assignment Shreve might have assigned as a college professor. The story begins with with Helen Scofield, an experienced journalist who began her career at a prominent weekly news magazine, visiting a young college co-ed. Helen has come to turn over her research and notes from a famous story she wrote decades earlier about the girl's mother. While we don't know the details, it is clear that the magazine piece had a profound effect of the family's life and that Helen has second thoughts about the story she wrote. The research consists of transcripts and notes from Helen's interviews with Mary Amesbury aka Maureen English, a former colleague at the magazine, and those who knew her during her brief stay in St. Hilaire on the Maine coast. It quickly becomes apparent that the subject of the piece is domestic abuse, as seen through the lens of the prejudices and ignorance of the early 1970s. Shreve lays out the facts in the "research" and allows us to hear the original voice of the relevant characters and come to our own conclusions about what happened and why. At the end of the book we get to read Helen's original article and consider the accuracy and sensationalism of Helen's take on the story.
The structure of the book certainly makes it a fascinating read, but equally noteworthy are Shreve's lyrical prose and vivid descriptions of the Maine shore. One constant in all of Shreve's books is her obvious love for and familiarity with the rugged New England coast and the people who live there. All in all, this is a wonderful book, challenging, intriquing, thought-provoking. You'll be glad you read it.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another hit for Shreve! July 13, 2000
Anita Shreve does it again with Strange Fits of Passion, a story in which the main character is a victim of violent physical abuse. Maureen English meets Harrold at her place of employment as a reporter in New York City. They immediately begin a relationship and marry within a year or so. Their relationship is characterized by heavy drinking and erotic sexual experimentations which all seem harmless for a time. Until the beatings begin. And they only get worse as time passes. Maureen becomes pregnant and has baby Caroline and, still, the violence continues, spurred on by inane jealousy, over-drinking or losses of temper. Once Maureen runs away only to return scared and ashamed. The second time she leaves, however, after a particularly bad scuffle, is for good. This time she drives with their baby to Northern New Enland where she knows noone and risks discovery less quickly. Yet she lives in the fear that he will eventually find her and, this time, she knows he will kill her. Told from the point of view of a reporter who later writes a book based on Maureen's story, the reader views letters Maureen has written that act as interviews, and later on, the newspaper article written on the basis of these interviews. Scary suspenseful, and emotionally demanding, Shreve has once again won my utmost respect and admiration as a modern novelist.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange Fits of Passion March 24, 2000
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was totally captivated by this book. I thought about it at night after I put it down, and I thought about it again in the morning. I have read other books by Anita Shreve, and they were excellent as well. But this story makes you want to scream at Mary. You see her mistakes, you see her helplessness, and you can't do anything. It brought to mind Black and Blue by Anna Quindlan. The same idea of wife beating, and not understanding how it gets this bad. I didn't want this story to end. I will certainly read all other books by Anita Shreve.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book
It was so good I didn't want it to end. There are few books that grab me that way. I plan to read more of her works.
Published 1 month ago by CH
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great novel from Schreve
Fabulous! But who was the woman at the end who gave the notes to Caroline?Was it the wife of Mary's lover? I don't like who-done-its that confuse the reader.
Published 2 months ago by Phyllis Singer
5.0 out of 5 stars Best page turner!!
I'm a huge fan of Anita Shreve. This is the third of her novels I've read and I could not put it down!!! Read more
Published 2 months ago by Addison
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
A thought provoking book although the end is a bit unsettling. I would have expected the author to talk more about the abuse, instead it seemed that she cast some doubt over the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Diane
2.0 out of 5 stars Thin, predictable plot with overlong descriptive passages
Shreve is a middling writer and I've enjoyed her books from time to time. This was not one of her best. It feels like she's repeating herself. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jessica Copen
5.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed this book
You cannot help but admire Maureen English/ alias Mary, for her courage to pick up and leave what appears to be a "story-book" marriage in New York to escape what is in... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Candi
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I enjoyed the story and the place setting in Maine. It was a very visual book.
Published 6 months ago by Laura Cyr
3.0 out of 5 stars can't remember
Can't remember it's bee. A while. Shreve is a good writer but I don't recall this one. Sorry about that.
Published 6 months ago by Laura Orsatti Weissflog
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read.
I have read Anita Shreve's books before and they are great books. She keeps your interest in all of her books. She is a great story teller.
Published 7 months ago by Kindle Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Really good
Published 7 months ago by Betty Blunt
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More About the Author

Anita Shreve grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts (just outside Boston), the eldest of three daughters. Early literary influences include having read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton when she was a junior in high school (a short novel she still claims as one of her favorites) and everything Eugene O'Neill ever wrote while she was a senior (to which she attributes a somewhat dark streak in her own work). After graduating from Tufts University, she taught high school for a number of years in and around Boston. In the middle of her last year, she quit (something that, as a parent, she finds appalling now) to start writing. "I had this panicky sensation that it was now or never."

Joking that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejections from magazines for her short stories ("I really could have," she says), she published her early work in literary journals. One of these stories, "Past the Island, Drifting," won an O. Henry prize. Despite this accolade, she quickly learned that one couldn't make a living writing short fiction. Switching to journalism, Shreve traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, where she lived for three years, working as a journalist for an African magazine. One of her novels, The Last Time They Met, contains bits and pieces from her time in Africa.

Returning to the United States, Shreve was a writer and editor for a number of magazines in New York. Later, when she began her family, she turned to freelancing, publishing in the New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and dozens of others. In 1989, she published her first novel, Eden Close. Since then she has written 14 other novels, among them The Weight of Water, The Pilot's Wife, The Last Time They Met, A Wedding in December, Body Surfing, Testimony,and A Change in Altitude.

In 1998, Shreve received the PEN/L. L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction. In 1999, she received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey, and The Pilot's Wife became the 25th selection of Oprah's Book Club and an international bestseller. In April 2002, CBS aired the film version of The Pilot's Wife, starring Christine Lahti, and in fall 2002, The Weight of Water, starring Elizabeth Hurley and Sean Penn, was released in movie theaters.

Still in love with the novel form, Shreve writes only in that genre. "The best analogy I can give to describe writing for me is daydreaming," she says. "A certain amount of craft is brought to bear, but the experience feels very dreamlike."

Shreve is married to a man she met when she was 13. She has two children and three stepchildren, and in the last eight years has made tuition payments to seven colleges and universities.

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