Thursday, April 14, 2011

All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve

All He Ever Wanted
Author: Anita Shreve
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: 2004
Paperback: 310 pages

My Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (from "Etna Bliss her just moved to the New England town where her uncle teaches college when her life is transformed in a single stroke. She is dining in a hotel downtown when a fire forces her to escape to the snowy streets outside. Amid the smoke and chaos of that night she is glimpsed, standing under a streetlight, by a man who was dining in the same room - a man who is so overwhelmed by the sight of her that he rebuilds his life around a single goal: to marry Etna Bliss." That man is Nicholas Van Tassel, and All He Ever Wanted is his account of how two lives changed from that tumultuous night forward. A proud and orderly man, Van Tassel is ill equipped to deal with the ferocity of love. But he is determined to have Etna, no matter what the cost. Riding a train south many years later, he unwinds his memories of the drama that followed and struggles to understand the mystery his life became on that night.

My Thoughts: As I was reading this book, one things kept coming to my mind: "My goodness, Anita Shreve writes so beautifully." Seriously, I felt like I was reading a poem at times, the writing is so descriptive and evocative of the character's feelings. While I believe that all of Shreve's books (at least the one's that I have read) are this way, here is just one example of what a beautiful writer she is:
     "Inspired by my brief visit to the Bliss residence, I set out with an ambition not equaled  
     in me before or since to win the hand of the woman whose voice and hair and skin 
     seemed to have permeated every membrane of my body and breached every boundary
     of my soul." (32)
This is just one example of many that I could have given. The simple feeling of attraction, Shreve makes into a poetic remark. It makes for a wonderful read, one that I feel at times is so indulgent because of the writing.

While the writing is beautiful, I felt that the story could have been stronger. The description of the book made it seem so intriguing, and while it was a good book, I just felt like there wasn't enough drama. The story is told from Nicholas' point of view, with him writing this as his memoir, looking back at this story some 30 years later. Nicholas is a strong character, one that I felt was a respectable person, even after what he did came to light. Etna, the woman he marries, is strong as well, and you feel her pull for something that few women at the turn of the 19th century had: freedom. I felt the story building between the two characters, and when I thought it would reach a climax, it fell short. Both are such strong characters that it seemed lackluster not to have something dramatic happen. I just felt a bit disappointed.

If you like Anita Shreve's writing style, then this book will not disappoint. But if you are looking for a story with a strong plot, then one of her other books would be a better choice.

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