At an inn in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, seven former schoolmates gather for a wedding. Two of the friends, Bill and Bridget, are to be married at last after being high school sweethearts who eventually drifted apart. They met again at the twenty-fifth high school reunion and it is Bill’s greatest wish to reassemble the group and marry Bridget, in spite of the possible illness which lies install for her. Bill and Bridget arrive at the inn with Bridget’s fifteen year old son, Matt, who will give his mother away at the wedding.
Nora owns the inn and over the past two years has re-invented herself following the death of her controlling, emotionally violent and cruel husband, the famous poet, Carl Laski. She has remodelled the inn and taken it to new heights of luxury, friendliness and popularity. She will host the wedding and her schoolmates for the weekend and is particularly excited that Harrison has agreed to join them for the weekend.
Harrison is still haunted by memories of a terrible event at Kidd Academy twenty-six years ago when they were all friends there. He has since moved to Canada and has made a success of his life. He lives with his wife and two sons in Toronto and this is the first time he has seen many of the group for over twenty years.
Rob is now a celebrated concert pianist and arrives with his partner, Josh. He used to be a baseball pitcher on the high school team but when his family realised his talent for the piano, he was no longer allowed to play. These days he travels the world playing concerts far and wide.
Jerry is a New York financier and causes a stir when he arrives in a stretch limo with his wife the beautiful and very successful, Julie, who is somewhat over shadowed by the loud and rude Jerry.
Agnes makes up the group. She is now a history teacher at Kidd Academy and though she is still single she has been living a double life for almost three decades. She and Nora stayed in touch from schooldays and Agnes was a regular visitor to the inn when Nora’s husband, Carl, was still alive, but even Nora doesn't know what Agnes has been keeping to herself all that time.
An important eighth member of this group of friends is conspicuous by his absence. The popular, charming, talented, sporty, Stephen, toast of the debating society and avid baseball player as well as the life and soul of the party was unknowingly haunted by alcohol induced depression and self-doubt. Stephen never made it to adulthood and it is his tale as well as their own that binds this group of friends together.
This is a story of friendship, revelation, forgiveness and love. Anita Shreve is masterful at building the tension within the group dynamic whilst at the same time rounding out the characters and their stories. We also get to know more about the cruel Carl Laski and one of the old teachers and now colleague of Agnes, Jim Mitchell. She weaves them all together in events so terrible that as I was reading I began to wonder how they all came out relatively unscathed. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear to see just how affected each of these people have been by past events and in spite of everything, how they are still bound by an enduring friendship.
This is a really great book full of emotion which is handled with great perception by Anita Shreve. I loved the characterisation and how believable each of the cast became. The prose and conversation is easy to follow and flows very naturally. I also liked that Agnes filled her empty life by writing a work of fiction about the Halifax disaster and a young eye surgeon, Innes Finch, who tended the wounded after the terrible explosion in Halifax Harbour almost a hundred and fifty years before. The serious topics of loss, guilt, loneliness, illness, cruelty and keeping secrets are handled expertly.
As this is the first book I have read of Anita Shreve’s I will absolutely look for more of her work and very likely read this one again.
The Kim-stillreading blog is book review blog. I read what appeals to me and that's not always the most recently published books. When I land on a book that looks interesting or when I discover a new author, I have been known to buy all their backlist! So, you may find a mixture of books being reviewed on the blog; those that are about to be published; those recently published; those published ages ago and classics!
For the You Couldn't Make This Up! blog, it all started with a challenge from a friend who asked me to write for six consecutive days about things I am grateful for. I did that and soon realised there were many more than six things to write about and so I decided to continue the list on this blog.
Feel free to tag along with me on my journey as I read and write my way through each day.