Friday, August 08, 2014

415 (2014 #43). Sea Glass

by Anita Shreve,
read by Kyra Sedgwick

Sea Glass begins in June 1929, when 20-year-old Honora Willard Beecher and her new husband, 24-year-old traveling salesman Sexton, are moving into an old dilapidated house on the New Hampshire coast just outside a mill town, fixing it up in lieu of rent.  When the house is put up for sale, Sexton finagles a way to buy it.  Then October comes, and the stock market crashes.

The reader learns more about the five main characters in chapters told from their points of view.  Honora has had a rough life, losing her father and her youngest brother in the Halifax explosion.  Sexton is an amazingly good salesman - maybe too good.  McDermott is a 20-year-old Irish immigrant working in the mills, losing his hearing from the noise, helping to support his orphaned siblings, and meeting with other men considering forming a union.  He befriends 11-year-old Francis (named Alphonse in some editions), a French immigrant also working in the mills and contributing to his family's income.  Vivian is a 28-year-old wealthy, bored, decadent socialite who comes to the coast for the summers.

In the early chapters, these people's lives start to intersect subtly, building to the chapters where they (and a few more minor characters) all come together to provide support for an upcoming strike at the mill.  There's both romance and tragedy in the story.  It was interesting to learn more about the labor movement in this period of American history, particularly as it affected the workers who went on strike, and the violence sometimes associated with it.

The title of the novel comes from the sea glass that Honora collects.  Sea glass has its sharp edges smoothed by the action of the waves and sand, and that serves as a metaphor for what happens in the book.

Actress Kyra Sedgwick does an awesome job reading this audiobook, with just that right emotion and nuances at all the right times.

I picked up this audiobook at my local public library because it was historical fiction and because it was short - I can listen to one audiobook CD a day during my commute and I had five days available before the start of my vacation.  I did not look that closely at the cover and was surprised to discover afterwards that it was an abridgment.  The abridgment (not by the author) was well done in that the novel flowed well, but it makes me wonder what I might have missed (apparently something about the house being a former convent, for one thing). I'm tempted to read the print book now!

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn, in the introduction by Anita Shreve, that this was her third book set in a certain old New England beach house (modeled after a real one), just in a different era.  I'm familiar with The Pilot's Wife, set in contemporary times, but I'm very curious to read Fortune's Rocks, set in 1899.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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