Strange Fits of Passion by Anita Shreve

I don’t have many more Anita Shreve books to read and in a canon that is now finite, I feel very, very sad about this. Because once you find a writer into whose words you can slide, following their rhythm with ease towards full immersion into their storytelling, you become greedy for more and crave the escape. Knowing that there are only limited opportunities in your future to do this has to induce a small amount of misery that sits alongside the pleasure of the reading.

Add to this the fact that Shreve’s attention is so demanding that you find it difficult to leave the world she creates on her pages and, as a consequence, in your eagerness to devour all they contain, the experience of indulging in her books is all too brief, like candy floss/cotton candy on the tongue.

I loved Strange Fits of Passion. It begins with a feature writer visiting a girl in college with manuscripts that she has gathered about the girl’s mother, one Mary Amesbury who served a sentence in prison. The novel reveals the circumstance leading to this incarceration in Mary’s own words as well as impressions of her from other people.

What I liked about Shreve’s book is the sense of entrapment that she creates in Mary, manufactured by the envious and manipulative nature of her husband, Harrold English, and his need to control. It is brutal in its depiction of Mary’s life and how it was not always that way but becomes by degrees more and more limited and more and more violent until it is untenable: she must escape.

And escape she does to a small Maine fishing town where she attempts to hide out and keep a low profile to heal and regroup with her young baby. The people are curious about this interloper in their midst but there is understanding and acceptance too and friendship and warmth, something that Mary’s life has lacked.

Despite the fact that you know that the story ends badly for Mary from the way it begins, Shreve is masterful in leading you through her marriage to her escape to her rebirth of sorts. But it is also in the people of St Hilaire, the characters who surround Mary and their individual recollections that Shreve’s world comes alive, as they reflect and describe their encounters with Mary.

A really good read.

2 thoughts on “Strange Fits of Passion by Anita Shreve

  1. Aww, I know the feeling of running out of books to read from favourite authors. Hopefully, you’ll really enjoy the remaining ones from her catalogue. And then there is always rereading? Or you don’t do that….


    1. You know, I very rarely reread a book. In fact, the only time I’ve really been known to do it is by accident! About half way through, I realise. That was one of the reasons I started writing reviews, so I could recall what I’d read! It will be a sad day when they’re all read …

      Liked by 1 person

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