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Body Surfing: A Novel Hardcover – April 24, 2007

3.3 out of 5 stars 174 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The beach house in New Hampshire which figured in Anita Shreve's The Pilot's Wife, Fortune's Rocks, and Sea Glass is once again featured in Body Surfing. This time, it is the summer home of the Edwards family, Anna and Mark and daughter Julie. Mrs. Edwards has great hopes for Julie, who is "slow," so she hires Sydney to tutor her, in preparation for her senior year. There are two older brothers, Jeff and Ben, whose arrival changes the household dynamic considerably.

Once again, Shreve revisits the minefield of love and betrayal that she has explored so well in her best novels. Sydney is 29, twice married, once divorced, and once a widow. She is floundering, not sure she wants to go back to school, accepting whatever job comes along and then moving on. She answers the ad for a tutor and finds herself in the Edwards household, where she discovers that Julie has undiscovered artistic talent. Mrs. Edwards dislikes her instantly, is dismissive, and treats her like a servant. Mr. Edwards befriends her, shows her his roses and talks to her about the history of the house, giving the reader a rundown of the role the house has played in prior novels.

Sydney, Jeff, and Ben go body surfing late one night and Sydney is sure that Ben has tried to grope her underwater. She takes immediate umbrage at this and treats him coldly thereafter. Shreve's other work has a steady narrative flow, but this novel is episodic and disjointed. There is the the arrival of Jeff's girlfriend, her departure, an evening when Julie comes home drunk and won't talk about it, and a liaison between Sydney and Jeff which leads to the complications that eventually define the novel. There is a twist at the end, involving the brothers, that is divisive, destructive and rather hard to believe.

While this is not Shreve's best effort, because the characters are not well-defined, it is worth reading her take on what happens to people when they compete for love. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Deceptive love and stark betrayal form the icy core of this dark 12th novel from Oprah-anointed (The Pilot's Wife), Orange Prize finalist (The Weight of Water) Shreve. Set adrift at 29 by the sudden death of her second husband (her first divorced her), smart, underemployed Sydney (no last name) signs on for a quiet New England oceanfront summer of tutoring 18-year-old Julie, the intellectually slow but artistically talented and strikingly beautiful daughter of the fractious Edwards clan. The family includes Julie's brothers—35-year-old Boston corporate real estate man Ben and 31-year-old M.I.T. poli-sci professor Jeff—and the three children's parents. Sydney is half-Jewish, and Mrs. Edwards is anti-Semitic. Family tensions escalate when Julie disappears, then resurfaces in Montreal as the lesbian lover of 25-year-old Helene (a body surfer who frequented the beach near the Edwardses' home). Jeff and Sydney bond during their search for Julie, nights of passion leading to plans for a joyous wedding, which get very complicated when the couple returns to Edwards central. Shreve's devastating depiction of the family's dissolution—the culmination of sublimated jealousies suddenly exploding into the open—is wrenching. Shreve's omniscience is asserted with such ease that it often feels like she's toying with her characters, but her control is masterful, particularly in the sure-handed and compassionate aftermath. (Apr.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 295 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316059854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316059855
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,070,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ratmammy VINE VOICE on July 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
BODY SURFING by Anita Shreve
July 17, 2007

Amazon Rating: 4/5 stars

Anita Shreve has to be one of my favorite authors, and BODY SURFING is yet another book I enjoyed immensely. It takes place in the same location as several of her previous books, notably FORTUNE'S ROCKS, and SEA GLASS. Compared to most of her other novels, BODY SURFING takes place in more contemporary times, so it has a different feel than the others. I wasn't sure I would enjoy this one because of it. However, I found that once I got into the story, I was enjoying it as much as I had FORTUNE'S ROCKS and SEA GLASS. Shreve has a wonderful way with words, and this book was no exception. It's what makes her books that much more of an experience.

29-year old Sydney is tutoring a young woman for the summer, a woman with a noticeable learning disability. She is slow, but her parents have high hopes that she will be able to further her education with some help from Sydney. Sydney is to live with the Edwards family, who are summering on the New Hampshire coast in a beach house, a very lovely location that plays as an important a part to the story as the characters do. Sydney's background is that she has been married twice now, and is at the age of 29 a widow. She is still trying to recover from the shock of losing her beloved husband, when she arrives at the summer home.

Not too long after she's moved in, the two grown sons also show up for the weekend. Ben and Jeff are two very different men. Jeff is a professor and Ben is in real estate. Sydney connects with Jeff, and finds herself pulled into his affections faster than she can blink an eye.
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Format: Hardcover
It's always a thrill to start reading a book by Anita Shreve. Her writing has a refreshing astringency, like tart lemon sherbet after one scoop too many of rocky road. Every sentence is weighted, and the reader joins the writer in observing and interpreting the action.

BODY SURFING is the story of Sydney Sklar, recently widowed, who is tutoring eighteen-year-old Julie Edwards at a beach house in New Hampshire. Julie's older brothers visit and sparks ignite between Sydney and Jeff.

Now comes the trouble with spare writing: the reader SEES the various love affairs unfolding, but they're hard to fathom. The chemistry has to be taken on faith. The drawing of a finger along a thigh inspires sensual longing? An underwater touch in the dark is received with intractable revulsion? A distant swimmer in a wetsuit arouses a young girl's first sexual passion? We know it because the author tells us so, but it's all a bit abstract. Lives are changed by these minimal encounters but the reader doesn't feel the heat; the plot seems somehow under-explained.

The characters, too, are described by their actions, with interpretation laid on. Somehow you know they're as complex as anyone else but the narrative doesn't quite do that complexity justice. We might wonder why Mrs. Edwards ever thought a summer of tutoring would get her "slow" daughter into a Seven Sisters college; how an architect never came to discover that his daughter is gifted with artistic talent; why neither of them ever noticed that she was a lesbian. And as for Sydney, she seems strong, smart and kind, is already twice-married, yet she can't spot a cad when she sees one and instantly agrees to marry him, apparently because of the thigh-stroking mentioned above.
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Format: Hardcover
I may be a man, and not just a man, but a businessman, and the only times that I am not going over a spreadsheet or quarterly report are when I am on a plane, but that is when I like to prop a cheap airline pillow behind my neck, wrap myself in a thin airline blanket, and dive into the latest Anita Shreve novel.

I usually wrap another dust jacket over the book, something with "Success" or "Winning" in the title, but underneath the fake jacket I am unwrapping the lives, histories, and fates of complicated and compelling characters, and I often finish a Shreve novel in tears at the sheer power of her vivid and powerful descriptions of the turmoil within the human heart, at which point a flight attendant or a fellow passenger will ask if anything's wrong, and I usually reply, "These success/winning/business strategies are just so powerful (sniff)... I can bench 200 pounds."

"Body Surfing: A Novel" continues Shreve's chronicling of the relationships between people seemingly thrown together by chance but whose lives eventually become so intertwined that one feels Fate, or an omniscient author, has brought them together.

Sydney, a young woman escaping her own past, steps into the seemingly idyllic, New Hampshire seaside home of wealthy architect Mr. Edwards. The elegant, two-story, white clapboard house with the wraparound porch and mansard roof has become a recurring character in many of Shreve's novels, and here it serves as the repository of growing resentments, passions, and betrayals as Sydney becomes entangled in the Edwards family slow dissolution.

I fairly dissolved myself as I read of Sydney's growing attraction to one of the Edwards brothers and the bitter actions of the other, all leading to a climax that left me, dare I say it, body surfing--on a wave of overwhelming emotions and uncontrollable feelings.
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