At 29, Sydney (a woman with no last name) has been married twice – once divorced, now widowed. In an effort to regain her equilibrium, she accepts a position as tutor to the daughter of a wealthy couple. At their historic, sprawling beach house, Sydney meets the family’s two grown sons, who vie for her attention. When she becomes engaged to one, it threatens fragile family relationships and, in a disastrous explosion of events, exposes the true character of both the brother she chose and the one she did not.
Typical of Shreve’s novels, Body Surfing is a literary piece, a character study in which she offers keen insights into human nature. Her observations are sharp, often cutting. Atypical, however is the feel of this novel. Instead of a smooth narrative flow, Shreve employs bursts of almost random streams of consciousness. Though some might find this disjointed and (perhaps) jarring, I found it to be a testament to Shreve’s skill that it works, somehow flowing together to form a cohesive whole. When I attempt to figure out her genius, I conclude it’s as much in what Shreve does not say as what she does. She trusts her readers’ intelligence; she doesn’t feel the need to connect every dot, believing we can make the necessary connections ourselves.
That said, I didn’t care much for this novel. It was dark-ish, not one I wanted to savor. Some plot-turns veered into the unbelievable, and one subplot in particular seemed a gratuitous airing of Shreve’s morality. She did, however, leave room for hope at the end, which somewhat redeemed the novel as a whole.