Strange Fits of Passion

Strange Fits of Passion

by Anita Shreve

Paperback(First Edition)

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A labyrinthine tale of truth and deception from acclaimed novelist Anita Shreve
Everyone believes that Maureen and Harrold English, two successful New York City journalists, have a happy, stable marriage. It's the early '70s and no one discusses or even suspects domestic abuse. But after Maureen suffers another brutal beating, she flees with her infant daughter to a coastal town in Maine. The weeks pass slowly, and just as Maureen begins to settle into her new life and new identity, Harrold reappears, bringing the story to a violent, unforgettable climax.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156031394
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/04/2005
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 256,407
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.93(d)

About the Author

Anita Shreve was a high school teacher and a freelance magazine journalist before writing fiction full time. She was the author of over fifteen novels including The Stars Are Fire as well as the international bestseller The Pilot’s Wife, and The Weight of the Water, a finalist for the Orange Prize. Shreve taught writing at Amherst College and lived in Massachusetts.


New Hampshire; Massachusetts

Date of Birth:



B.A., Tufts University

Reading Group Guide

1. Why is Maureen attracted to Harrold? How much is he a mentor to her? Can you understand why she marries him? Why do you think she stays with her abusive husband for so long? How much is Maureen's judgment impaired by the excessive drinking? Does she have a problem with alcohol or is she using it as a shield against the truth? Can you believe that she wouldn't have told anyone about the abuse? (Keep in mind that this takes place more than twenty-five years ago.)

2. When she leaves Harrold the first time why didn't she stay in Chicago with her mother? Is she worried about disappointing her mother or is she too afraid of Harrold? What finally makes her flee? This novel makes a statement about how well you can really know another person. How well does Mary know herself? Does she change her name to Mary Amesbury to conceal her identity or is she also creating a new one?

3. Would the people of St. Hilaire have helped her if she didn't have Caroline? Would she have received help in a big city? Why do the townspeople challenge Mary on her story of the car accident? Does Julia approve or disapprove of Mary's affair with Jack?

4. Jack tells Mary that he doesn't mind giving up his dream of coaching and teaching. Do you believe him? Jack is a man bound by duty, first to his father's lobster boat, then to his de-pressed wife. How much is he a product of his time? Of place? Mary sees her and Jack's reflection in the window and thinks, "We didn't look anything like a love affair rather something homelier, more familiar." Is she in love with him, or does she need him?

5. Do you think Willis turns on Mary because she rejects him? Willis seems to walk a thin line betweenright and wrong, did you worry that he might try to hurt her? Why does she allow Willis to stay in her house when she's clearly uncomfortable with him?

6. When Caroline has the serious ear infection why doesn't Mary tell the doctor the truth and ask him to conceal her whereabouts from Harrold? Does she think the doctor won't understand? Why is she resigned to the fact that her husband will find her?

7. Mary and Harrold's colleagues are stunned to find out about the abuse. Do they believe Mary's story? We find out later that Mary's former colleagues had thought she was very talented and could have had a bright career. Does Mary recognize her own talents? Was she too honest to "make it" as a journalist? Does she see Helen as the person she was never able to become?

8. Helen Scofield remembers her father saying, "The reporter's job is simply to find its shape." Why isn't it this simple for Helen? Do you think that if a reporter changes a quote to make it sound better that he or she is doing something wrong? Helen admits to being the "storyteller." Can a journalist be a storyteller and still tell the truth? Why does Helen want Caroline to have her notes?

9. How does Helen's article compare to Mary's story? Helen writes about the sex games, which damages Mary's credibility. Does she really believe that Mary was a willing partner? Willis tells Helen he wants her to have "all the facts." She relies on Willis as a source even though she knows that Mary rejected his advances. Was this irresponsible reporting or was she trying to cover all the angles of the story? Do "the facts" necessarily represent the whole truth? Everett tells Helen about the woman with three breasts and emphatically asks her not mention it in her article, yet she does. What does this say about Helen and the media in general?

10. According to Helen's article, Mary contradicts herself in the courtroom. Is this because she feels guilty or responsible for her abusive marriage? After her first trial ends in a hung jury, why does she waive her right to a trial by jury? Wouldn't the women jurors have sympathized with her again? Was this a legal tactic or another act of self-destruction? Do you think Mary was justified in killing Harrold? Do you think Mary would be sentenced to prison today for this crime? How much did the suicide of Jack's wife hurt her case? Should Mary and Jack feel guilty for her death?

11. Helen tries to justify her article by explaining to Caroline how it was a different time. Do you agree? How much have times changed? Helen tells Caroline that she believes her mother was not responsible for any part of her victimization. Did she believe this at the time she wrote her article or did she become more aware about domestic violence issues over the years?

12. Can you forgive Helen for her ambition? Do you think Caroline feels like she deserves her money or does she simply need it? Caroline points out that her mother may have used Helen. Does Caroline know something or is she merely making a point? This novel raises important issues about the complexity of truth and the difficulty of finding it in the media. Can the truth ever be told from one person's point of view?

Copyright (c) 1999. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.

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Strange Fits of Passion 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Shreve has done it again... Astonishment and amazement will surround you in this very descriptive tale of marital vicissitude. The characters are superbly developed and the tale is quite realistic. If you have a penchant for suspense and turbulence, this is your stop to read the best. Bravo...
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is books like these that make you think twice about judging someone else and the circumstances in which they live. This is an amazing book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and you don't want to put down until you have read the very last page. I work with domestic violence victims, and this story rings true for all too many of them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the second book by Shreve that I have read and haven't been able to put down. I finished the book in an afternoon sitting(even taking it to dinner). The characters are excellently developed and yet questions still remain about each one. I completely recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an 'I can't put it down' type of book. The story is compelling and sucks you in from the first page and all you can think about is what will happen next. Definately recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like many of her other books so picked this one on a whim and thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommend.
Kristen Wicks More than 1 year ago
one of my favorites by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anita Shreve never lets me down! This book has it all: spousal abuse, escape, forbidden lover, murder,& suicide! The title is from a Wordsworth poem, I googled it, read it & cried. I loved this book!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read all but 2 of Anita Shreve's books and they are all great. This one is because of topic is different than her others but she addresses the topic in such a tasteful way and as a woman you can feel nothing but compassion for Mary/Maureen. I would highly recommend this book!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was hesitant to read about domestic abuse, but gave it a try because a friend said it was one of her favorites. This book is so well written. I usually begin reading a book in the store, buy it, begin the next chapter at home and it's boring, but that is not the case with this book!! It is very good! It will keep you interested.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the third book of hers i have read. I have trouble picking a favorite. She is a gifted writer. This story touched me in a way that most books dont. The attention to detail made me picture what she was going through. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Afer reading Strange Fits of Passion, it should become clear to everyone that you cannot judge someone, or their actions, until you have 'walked in their shoes'. There were several different courses of action that Mary/Maureen could have taken. I felt she did not seek outside help because whe had been conditioned to feel that she was not worthy of anything better. There is no reality, only perception, and Mary/Maureen acted out of her perception of the situation. This is definitely a book worth reading. It deals with a distasteful subject matter in as tasteful a way as possible.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the last book of Shreve's that I read and I was surprised and delighted to find that I enjoyed it the most! It has a real sense of place - the description of the locality echoes in many ways the nature of the relationship described. It wasn't gruesome in it's description of the abuse, yet one could easily imagine and feel the horrors. After reading it, I got down the atlas to find out exactly where Maine is - not being from that side of the Atlantic!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The beginning already portends the tragic ending. But you are just drawn to the story because you want to understand why and how. You can't help but feel sorry for Mary/Maureen, and feel disappointed when others view her as the guilty one, someone cheap and sleezy who was at fault despite her husband's physical and mental abuse, and how others try to benefit from her story. In any case, the way Shreve writes about domestic violence and how a woman covers it up and seeks means to improve her life and state of mind is very compelling. Also, the manner in which it is written (interview transcripts so you can get a sense of other people's point of view of the situation) makes the story and characters come to life (and you realize modern fiction is salvaged by great writers such as Shreve who can make fiction feel almost real). You don't have to be a woman to appreciate this novel. In fact, I think both genders should read it in order to have a better understanding of the thoughts and feelings of someone who is being abused and doesn't know how to confront the problem to the point that he/she may go to 'extremes' for fear of his/her own life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is fantastic. I first read Fortunes Rock whilst on holiday and rushed to the bookstore on my return to buy the rest of her books. I couldn't put this one down! Will be reading A Pilots Wife next!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anita Shreve is my new favorite author! I couldn't put this book down. Now I'm on line purchacing all of Anita's books that I haven't read yet. You GOTTA read this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Loaned to me by a friend to fill layover time in an airport-almost missed my flight. I could not stop reading. I finished this book within a 24 hour only regret is that it was over. A'must read'. This was my introduction to Anita Shreve. She leaves you with a feeling that you want more...the story stayed with me...I can't shake it.
pdebolt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an early Anita Shreve book, and the subject is domestic violence and its tragic consequences. The book is a compilation of observations by different people as told in court and to the writer who wrote a book based on her correspondence with the domestic abuse victim. The reasoning of the abused wife for staying with the abuser is potent and pathetic. I was certain that she would have been drawn to another abuser eventually if she hadn't found this particular one.
CatieN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the early 1970s, domestic violence was still something that was whispered about. It was not normally on the front pages of the newspapers. Maureen English, with her baby Caroline, flees her abusive husband and ends up in a tiny town in Maine and assumes a new identity. As her bruises heal and the people in the small town guess at what brought her to them and begin to take her in, Maureen starts to feel somewhat safer but knows, if Harold finds her, he will kill her for leaving him and taking his child. The story is told through interviews a crime reporter did for a story on Maureen and Harold. It is mostly Maureen's voice, but there are also interviews with some of the town's residents and what they felt about Maureen and the situation. There are also questions about the crime reporter's truthfulness in her article and also the veracity of Maureen. There is no doubt from the very beginning that there will not be a happy ending, but Shreve keeps the reader on the edge of their seat getting to that point.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read several of her books. Thought this was pretty good. It kept my interest from beginning to end.
anonomas More than 1 year ago
Wow.....just wow!
KPinBR More than 1 year ago
Interesting premis but missing in the delivery. The writing brings the community to life and uses an interesting approach to tell the story. The conclusion raises an interesting question about journalism but didn't deliver a real bang.
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