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Anita Shreve Biography

Nationality: American. Born: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1946. Education: Tufts University. Career: Journalist assigned to Nairobi, Kenya, late 1970s; writer for US magazine, New York Times, and New York magazine, New York; freelance writer, 1986—; has taught at Amherst College, Massachusetts. Lives in western Massachusetts. Awards: PEN/L. L. Winship Award; New England Book Award for Fiction.



Eden Close. New York, Harcourt, 1989.

Strange Fits of Passion. New York, Harcourt, 1991.

Where or When. New York, Harcourt, 1993.

Resistance. Boston, Little, Brown, 1995.

The Weight of Water. Boston, Little, Brown, 1997.

The Pilot's Wife. Boston, Little, Brown, 1998.

Fortune's Rocks. Boston, Little, Brown, 2000.


Dr. Balter's Child Sense: Understanding and Handling the Common Problems of Infancy and Early Childhood (with Lawrence Balter). New York, Poseidon Press, 1985.

Dr. Balter's Baby Sense (with Lawrence Balter). New York, Poseidon Press, 1985.

Working Woman: A Guide to Fitness and Health (with Patricia Lone). St. Louis, Missouri, Mosby, 1986.

Remaking Motherhood: How Working Mothers Are Shaping Our Children's Future. New York, Viking, 1987.

Who's in Control?: Dr. Balter's Guide to Discipline without Combat (with Lawrence Balter). New York, Poseidon Press, 1988.

Women Together, Women Alone: The Legacy of the Consciousness-Raising Movement. New York, Viking, 1989.

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Anita Shreve is not only an award-winning fiction writer, but she has also been recognized for her non-fiction works. In her non-fiction career, Shreve focuses in the area of women's studies and psychology, often examining important issues such as working and single mothers. In her novels, which are frequently set in New England, Shreve frequently juxtaposes the past and the present while weaving in a thread of mystery and suspense. Shreve is particularly interested in male/female relationships and repeatedly emphasizes the hardships of marriage, especially for women. In her first two novels, Eden Close and Strange Fits of Passion, Shreve examines the oppression of domestic abuse. Her next four novels—Where or When, Resistance, The Weight of Water, and The Pilot's Wife—explore the theme of adultery, while a subsequent novel, Fortune's Rocks, investigates scandal and disgrace in a wealthy New England family.

Eden Close and Strange Fits of Passion follow Shreve's usual pattern of mystery and intrigue. Both of these novels focus on how past events affect the present, while concentrating on domestic violence and undiscovered secrets that link the characters. While Eden Close examines violence against women in a non-political manner, Strange Fits of Passion takes a different approach. Eden Close tells the story of Andrew and Eden, who grew up next door to one another. When Eden is raped, the love between the two friends is postponed. While Eden is blinded and remains at home, Andrew goes to college and begins a career. It is only after Andrew returns home for his mother's funeral that their love is rekindled and Andrew goes in search of Eden's attacker.

Strange Fits of Passion, which also examines domestic violence, is told through a reporter's notes and a woman's letters from prison. The story opens with vague references to the murder of Maureen's abusive husband. A reporter, Helen Scofield, observes the imprisoned Maureen and composes a magazine piece about her life. Strange Fits of Passion was originally intended to be a non-fiction work. Shreve was especially attracted to the stories that domestic abuse survivors shared with her, and, when it was time to write the novel, she felt that she could more candidly portray the life of a battered woman through a fictitious narrator.

Where or When is the first of Shreve's four novels that discuss adultery. Sian and Charles, both unhappily married, awaken their old romance that began when they were young. This novel shifts between the viewpoints of the two main characters as they reveal their feelings about their current love affair and their past relationship. The novel has been criticized for being nothing more than a morality play, telling the universal story of sinners forced to pay for their transgressions.

Resistance also details adultery and the struggle with trust and betrayal. This text, set in Nazi-occupied Belgium, tells the story of a wounded American pilot, Ted Brice, who falls in love with the unhappily married Claire Daussois, who furnishes a safehouse for him during World War II. While this novel could fall into the familiar morality tale of good and evil, Shreve resurrects it with obscurities that could fall anywhere between the two categories.

Shreve's fifth novel, The Weight of Water, returns to her New England setting. Shreve originally recorded the idea for this work in a short story that was published in the Cimarron Review and many years later developed it into a full-length novel. The main character, Jean, is given the assignment of photographing the Isle of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire, the scene of an infamous nineteenth-century double murder. Traveling to the island, Jean notices a romance developing between her husband and his brother's girlfriend. The text examines the problems in Jean's marriage and the ramifications of jealousy while paralleling modern day action with an 1873 double murder.

The Pilot's Wife, like Resistance, opens with a fallen aircraft, only in this case, it is a commercial jet and no one survives the crash. This terrible accident continues Shreve's theme of tragedy and betrayal. After Kathryn Lyons learns of the death of her husband, she discovers the mistress that he kept in England. The Pilot's Wife is truly about inner anguish and details one woman's emotional aftermath following the discovery of her husband's affair. Some critics have claimed that the book lacks a clear focus and declared that it is not apparent whether Shreve is writing a psychological study of women in crisis or a suspense romance.

Fortune's Rocks is set in the late nineteenth century. This novel has been compared to Wuthering Heights, but, like The Pilot's Wife, Fortune's Rocks has been criticized for its weak female characters and unsuccessful feminist message. Olympia Biddeford is the daughter of a wealthy Boston family. After spending the summer at her father's New Hampshire estate, Olympia is entranced by John Haskell. When she ends up pregnant, her father insists that she break off the relationship. Despite the main character's quest for independence, Olympia only overcomes her problems because of her family's wealth and societal status. She does not act independently, and, without her family, would probably fail.

With each novel, Shreve receives more critical and popular attention. While examining the struggle of the human heart, she manages to incorporate page-turning thrill and suspense. Shreve's stories of trust and betrayal will gain her the recognition she deserves because of her honest portrayal of human suffering and its aftermath.

—Marta Krogh

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