Sunday, July 25, 2010

Painting and Body Surfing with Anita Shreve

At the end of the work day yesterday my supervisor asked me if I was going to relax today. I had to laugh cause I know where she was going with that. She thinks I'm just a little bit "off" because I find physical labor so relaxing. I love the sense of immediacy that I get when I work hard doing something, in this instance, mowing the lawn, painting the family room, planting the garden, that makes me sweat and allows me the joy of seeing the results. There's nothing more fulfilling than putting the photos and mirrors back up on a freshly painted wall!

I think that when one works with the brain, especially in the politically charged atmosphere we in county government are experiencing right now, the emotional stress level is high and unhealthy. If I didn't have the physical release I know I'd be very depressed. With that in mind, I spent my day off Friday on the ladder and the result is just exquisite. This old house looks brand spanking new and I got to listen to an entire book!

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve was one that I missed when it first came out. I happened to spot it while surfing our rather dismal choices in the Download Depot - literary fiction doesn't seem to be our strong suit. I'll admit that I almost gave it up because it didn't grab me right out of the gate. I've found that a down side of the Internet world is that our patience level has decreased tremendously - at least mine has. I'm not too keen on that aspect of myself.

Luckily I was too lazy to move on to the next book on my player and so just let it run. I'm glad that I did. Ms. Shreve is up there with some of my favorite writers who specialize in examining the nuance of familial relationships and the complications of love in all its manifestations. Usually there's something a bit sinister - maybe that's too strong a word - but all is never what it seems in a Shreve novel and this one is no exception.

Returning to one of her favorite spots, ocean front New Hampshire, this contemporary tale revolves around the seemingly perfect Edwards family whose daughter Julie is being tutored for her SAT's by Sydney, a live-in paid companion who walks a fine line between servant and guest. What no one will acknowledge is that Julie has a learning disability so the SAT will not get her into the fine college that her mother expects for her. She will not be following in the footsteps of her two older brothers, Jeff and Ben, of whom Mrs. Edwards is inordinately proud.

Sydney, though still in her thirties, has already been divorced once and then widowed. Mrs. Edwards, suspicious of someone who's "been around" so much tolerates her only because Julie responds so well to Sydney's loving tutelage. When "the boys" return home for a holiday weekend, each one sees something entrancing in Sydney, and the games begin. The well honed veil of family perfection will soon be torn  asunder by secrets, passion and jealousy with Sydney as the pawn in an old conflict.

And talk about writers who excel at family conflict, I just started Anna Quindlan's new novel Every Last One. Wow! That's my professional opinion so far. More on that at the end of the week. I also just finished listening in the car to a new author I had been unfamiliar with. His name is Alan Drew and the book, Gardens of Water, was deeply disturbing and ripe for book clubs. I'll tell you more about that later but I see out the window that my newspapers are here. Don't you just hate it when you can't sleep in on your day off?

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