Monday, April 8, 2013

5 Heart Review: Where or When by Anita Shreve

Where or When
Anita Shreve

Page Count: 242

Release Date: 1994 (first edition)
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Source: Complimentary copy provided by TripFiction in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

When Charles Callahan chances on a newspaper photograph of Sian Richards, a woman he loved when they were both only thirteen, he is hardly in a position to do anything about it. He has been faithfully married for years and his Rhode Island real estate business has been hit hard by the recession. But Charles cannot bear his curiosity, and decides to get in touch.

Three decades after they last saw each other, the two lovers meet. Powerfully drawn together once again, Charles and Sian are forced to come to terms with the nature of erotic love and betrayal, moral quandaries in an age of shifting values, and the elusive nature of time.


Charles first saw Siân at summer camp thirty-one years ago, and he fell in love. He never really lost memory or longing of her, even though they never saw each other again after those few fateful, scorching weeks they spent together; so when he comes across her photograph serendipitously while flicking through a literary magazine, his world begins to spin in a new direction. He needs to see her. Forget the wife, forget the kids—he needs Sîan. His sinking business and financial security set the tone of this gloomy, cryptic novel; little does he know that they will mark his failure, as well as his downfall.

I couldn't really get into this one because I couldn't connect with the characters. Each of them are most intimately portrayed by Shreve's dense, flowery prose, but they still seem too detached, too cold. The power of first love—and in that, the illusion of romanticized childhood—is expertly detailed upon, but emotionally, personally... Charles and Sîan are a let-down.

I have mixed feelings about the writing style; on one hand, it's gorgeously crafted, but on the other, it's kind of rambly, descriptive in unnecessary places and too vague in others. There's a quaint perceptiveness in Shreve's penmanship that's both distant and generic; I liked this, but it hinders the story's progress, so overall Where or When was sort of difficult to read.

The blithe bay setting, with brief flashes of Rhode Island and of east coast beaches, is nice. Nothing powerful, but definitely appropriate for the content and style: hazy, breezy, and static.

Ah, but the ending—what in the world?? Unfulfilling, miserable, wretched thing! I like the take on the tragic ending, but the way the author decided to terminate the connection between the two lovers, not so much. I feel like there was a better path she could have taken, so the ending was what finally ruined the story for me.

The affliction over an impossible love permeates throughout this book—from the first page, to the last. Even in the title, is a direct allusion: it's where or when, but never and, never both, which signifies how the self-serving motives and foolishly insatiable desires of the human heart will eventually lead to catastrophe.


Intimacy between characters, and between characters and readers // Lush prose // Breezy east coast backdrop // Interesting storyline about childhood lovers


Unmoving // Terrible ending // Style is syrupy; hard to read // Just didn't affect me in any which way


In a letter from Siân to Charles: 
I imagine us meeting intermittently over a period of many years—possibly even into old age—a thread running through our live.

When I move a certain way, I can smell you on my skin.


Where or When is a futile account of a mistaken love that consumes two very unhappy individuals. I say futile because there is nothing about it that's touching or engaging; it's just a flat story with flat characters, and I put it down having gained very little. It does however, contain Anita Shreve's exquisite prose, and well-interprets the tragedy of time, of timing. This wasn't a completely deplorable read, but I don't care for it much, and wouldn't recommend it Americanflag

5 hearts: Doesn't particularly light any of my fires; I feel indifferent about this book (x)