Monday, January 26, 2015

450 (2015 #7). Fortune's Rocks

by Anita Shreve 

After reading Anita Shreve's Sea Glass a few months back, I was interested in reading another of her books set in a certain old New Hampshire beach house (modeled after a real one).  While the house is in New Hampshire, the setting for this book is an area called Fortune's Rocks, in an unspecified New England state.  There really is a Fortune's Rocks Beach, which is near the town of Biddeford, Maine.  Interestingly, the main character in this book is named Olympia Biddeford.  This book is more historical romance than historical fiction, though.

Olympia is 15 when the book begins in 1899.  Her wealthy family has a summer home at Fortune's Rocks.  John Haskell is a 40-year-old married doctor visiting the nearby mill town of Ely Falls for the summer, volunteering his services providing medical care for the mill workers.  Olympia and John meet when he visits Olympia's father, and begin a passionate affair.

Not surprisingly, Olympia gets pregnant, has the child in her parents' home in Boston, and her father spirits the baby away while Olympia is under the effects of painkillers from the childbirth.  Her father then sends her away to school in western Massachusetts.  In the next three years, she doesn't forget about John or her baby boy, though.

She ultimately finds her way back to Fortune's Rocks, living in her family's summer home which they have abandoned.  She finds out where her child is from an old friend there.  Ultimately she goes to court to get her son back.  In her acknowledgments, Shreve says, "The court opinions cited in italics in this work of fiction are, in fact, true ones, and portions of the final judgment are taken from the court transcript of the Pennsylvania case of d'Hauteville v. Sears, Sears, and d'Hauteville, although the circumstances of that 1840 custody trial were quite different.

The trial is quite interesting and goes somewhat as one would expect a historical romance to go.  There's a bit of a surprise, though, and even more of one in the final chapter, which occurs eight years after the trial.

Olympia is a compelling character, not typical of her time, given that she feels no shame for her affair, only remorse that John's wife and children were hurt by it.

I read this as an e-book, the cover of which is pictured above and is rather nondescript.  The cover of the hardbound edition, pictured at left, features detail of 12-year-old Ruby (likely meant to represent Olympia) from the 1902 painting  by John Singer Sargent of Essie, Ruby and Ferdinand, Children of Asher Wertheimer.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The e-book, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to public libraries.]

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