My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Before I begin, I should probably mention that I listened to this through Audible, so perhaps the reason I didn’t like it as much as I had expected to was simply because of the narrator. Set in Maine in the 1940s, the story is told from the perspective of Grace–a young mother who is unhappily wed to an unhappy man. A catastrophic fire (based on true events) upends her life and provides her the opportunity to break the societal limitations placed on women of the era. Grace’s house, along with virtually every house in the community, burned to the ground, and her husband Gene, who had left to help fight the fires, disappears. In order to provide for her children and mother, Grace learns to drive, finds a job, and meets a couple of incomprehensibly available men.
In line with a couple of reviews I’ve read, the book certainly did seem to have a lot of rather convenient elements to drive the plot. Despite the mutual dislike between Grace and her mother-in-law Merle, she just so happens to leave a ridiculously large house to her son that is conveniently laden with expensive jewelry hidden in dresses. It’s also conveniently laden with a piano, which attracts a concert pianist-turned squatter-turned love interest. The doctor who nurses her back to health after the fire also brings her daughter back to health (not surprising given that it was a small town), but also is conveniently in need of a secretary and book-keeper, and Grace just happened to have spent a year at secretarial school before giving it all up to marry loser Gene. So, poor Dr. Lighthart is a sweetheart and works around the clock to help the community and is clearly in love with Grace, but Grace keeps him in the ‘just friends’ territory because her heart is with the dark brooding concert pianist who reads biographies of Dvorak in his spare time (which he has a lot of, because he’s a concert pianist.) But of course he also loves taking care of people. And kids. And likes dogs and long, moonlit walks on the beach.
And then of course there is plot twist that nobody (read: everybody) saw coming, and Grace is forced to draw a line in the sand and stand up for that which is most important.
Ok, this review is more negative than I had intended. The book wasn’t really that bad. The characters were flat for me and the ending just didn’t seem plausible given the day and age. It wasn’t my favorite book by Shreve, but at the same time it wasn’t so bad that I’ll avoid reading any future books she writes.