I read Fortune's Rocks but will apply this caveat: My book club made me do it.
This was my first Anita Shreve novel, and I was not impressed. For starters, the premise is rather absurd and more than a little creepy: a highly educated 15-year-old girl falls in love with a highly respected 41-year-old doctor and married father of four. Shreve does a poor job of actually defining their relationship in any terms other than the physical. You are never really let in on either character's heart, never really shown any of the deeper insights into the spiritual or psychological nature of their feelings. There is very little for the reader to hold on to, to empathize with, or to understand.
There was also something in the character development that just seemed...forced. While Shreve attempted to breathe a sense of life, passion, and originality into all of her characters, it seems that none of her efforts really took. Everyone seemed to be missing that important "something" that would have transformed them from two dimensional ideas of characters into living, breathing beings that could transcend the page and become real.
This was a period piece, and Shreve's somewhat awkward efforts to recreate that era made the story feel more artificial than authentic. Complicated descriptions of fabrics and clothing made me feel like Shreve was simply trying too hard. The random attempts at period language (cues during childbirth to "strain as if at stool") and hokey cliches made most of the dialogue feel stilted and contrived.
I am all for reading a novel about romance (ie: Jane Eyre) but this book felt more like a grocery store romance novel with an identity crisis. I felt like it was trying to cover up its romance novel roots by throwing in forward-thinking social commentary about mill workers, culture wars, and custody laws in turn-of-the-century New England, in the hope that no one would notice. Despite the 26-year age difference of the main characters, the book had potential. Unfortunately, Shreve just wasn't able to deliver. It's not a book I'd be likely to recommend.
I enjoyed this book very much. Learning about the morals and issues of both poor and wealthy in a past bygone era when cotton bathing costumes that covered most of the body were the rage and automobiles were first making an appearance.
The time is the turn of the last century, the setting a rocky New Hampshire coastline resort area nicknamed "Fortune's Rocks." Olympia Biddeford, age 15, is walking the beach, feeling the first stirrings of her womanhood. The strong-willed daughter of an upstanding Boston couple, she soon "learns of desire" as she begins a passionate affair with a married writer, John Haskell, three times her age. From the moment they meet (he is a visiting friend of her father's), they experience a sexual sparkAOlympia feels "liquid" in his presence. Soon, they fall into sinful trysting. Shreve (The Pilot's Wife) serves up these opening events with breathless immediacy. Once the plot gets a chance to developAOlympia gets pregnant, gives up child, fights to get child backAit settles down considerably, turning into a modernized The Scarlet Letter, a tale of a woman attaining feminist independence by living outside her period's societal mores.