The Weight of Water

The Weight of Water

by Anita Shreve


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Journeying to Smuttynose Island, off the coast of New Hampshire, to shoot a photo essay about a century-old double murder, a photographer becomes absorbed by the crime and increasingly obsessed with jealousy over the idea that her husband is having an affair.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316789974
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 01/01/1997
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range: 13 Years

About the Author

Anita Shreve is the acclaimed author of more than a dozen novels, including A Change in Altitude, Testimony; her best-known book, The Pilot’s Wife, which was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club; and The Weight of Water, which was a finalist for England’s Orange prize. Her book Resistance was turned into a movie with the same name. She is a writer who combines seemingly effortless prose with riveting storytelling.


New Hampshire; Massachusetts

Date of Birth:



B.A., Tufts University

Read an Excerpt

The Weight of Water

By Anita Shreve

Little Brown & Company

Copyright © 1997 Anita Shreve
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0316780375

Chapter One

I have to let this story go. It is with me all the time now, a terrible weight.

I sit in the harbor and look across to Smuttynose. A pink light, a stain, makes its way across the island. I cut the engine of the small boat I have rented and put my fingers into the water, letting the shock of the cold swallow my hand. I move my hand through the seawater, and think how the ocean, this harbor, is a repository of secrets, its own elegy.

I was here before. A year ago. I took photographs of the island, of vegetation that had dug in against the weather: black sedge and bayberry and sheep sorrel and sea blite. The island is not barren, but it is sere and bleak. It is granite, and everywhere there are ragged reefs that cut. To have lived on Smuttynose would have required a particular tenacity, and I imagine the people then as dug in against the elements, their roots set into the cracks of the rocks like the plants that still survive.

The house in which the two women were murdered burned in 1885, but when I was here a year ago, I photographed the footprint of the house, the marked perimeter. I got into a boat and took pictures of the whitened ledges of Smuttynose and the black-backed gulls that swept and rose above the island in search of fish only they could see. When I was herebefore, there were yellow roses and blackberries.

When I was here before, something awful was being assembled, but I didn't know it then.

I take my hand from the water and let the drops fall upon the papers in the carton, dampened already at the edges from the slosh. The pink light turns to violet.

Sometimes I think that if it were possible to tell a story often enough to make the hurt ease up, to make the words slide down my arms and away from me like water, I would tell that story a thousand times.


Excerpted from The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve Copyright © 1997 by Anita Shreve
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Weight of Water 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 95 reviews.
Grace_Wilde More than 1 year ago
This book is heavy, but any book that makes me feel more appreciative of my family and more aware of the experience I'm living this lifetime is worth reading. Completely heart wrenching and hard to put down. One of my favorite from Shreve - top three and I've read them all.
kmckeeve More than 1 year ago
I liked this book despite the emotional heaviness. It drew me in from the very start and was difficult to put down. The story and emotions stayed with me for days after I finished.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wonderful, heart-wrenching, gripping story. The way the narration intertwines makes it even more intriguing and mesmerizing. The prose reads like poetry and this has become one of my favorite books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful story that dipped from the present to the past, and excavated an old mystery - one that actually occurred.
FlorenceArt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautiful book but not for the faint-hearted. The end was a shock and weighed on me for some time.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't warm to this book. I think it tries too hard, it feels affected, insincere. It's mostly told from the perspective of Jean. She's a photographer sent to get photographs of Smuttynose, Maine, part of the Shoal Islands near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1873, it was the setting of a gruesome double murder, so she visits the island accompanied by her husband, five-year-old daughter and her brother-in-law and his girlfriend. The novel is mostly written in a first person present voice that after far too many recent reads of literary fiction, I associate with an overreaching attempt at lyricism. I don't want to give the idea I always hate this technique--it can lend not just lyricism but an immediacy to a narrative if done well, but this felt strained to me, maybe because of the way from the beginning it bounced manically from paragraph to paragraph to the present to the past of the island to the background of Jean's relationship with her husband. When we reached the first part of a memoir from the one survivor of the murders discovered by Jean, I felt relieved to shift to that voice. But the relief didn't last too long, because I never really believed in the voice of Maren. For one, Maren claims to have included the text of another's letter by memory, then she closes the first part on how she's too tired to continue for now--both aspects of that narrative seemed very artificial. And as for the ultimate fate of that memoir... Well, what can I say? It didn't make me feel any more tender towards Jean. And how I felt about Jean, her husband and the other adults accompanying them? I never cared much. And in a first person narrative, especially one so obviously trying to break your heart, that's deadly. I found the novel depressing without ever being tragic in a cathartic way. I've never read Shreve before, and this novel doesn't make me want to read more of her.
SRumzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anita Shreve is one of my favorite authors. The story is about a couple who need to find out if they can support each other and if they should stay together. She is a newspaper photographer digging into an old ax murder. Interesting surprises.
lit_chick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿I wonder this: if you take a woman and push her to the edge, how will she behave?¿ (Ch 1)The Weight of Water moves back and forth between past and present as photo journalist Jean Janes explores the 1873 murder of two Norwegian immigrants, Anethe and Karen Christensen, on the Isles of Shoals, off the New Hampshire coast. The gruesome murders were witnessed by a third woman, Maren Hontvedt. Jean discovers Maren¿s voice in letters long since archived and forgotten.The novel is well written, and an easy and compelling read. Shreve draws several parallels between the past and present narratives, between Jean¿s life and Maren¿s. Truthfully, I was surprised to find The Weight of Water nominated for an Orange Prize; but this is solid work, and Shreve deserved the recognition.
moonshineandrosefire on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1873, on the lonely, windswept islands of Isles of Shoals - a group of islands off the coast of New Hampshire - two women were brutally murdered. A third woman was found cowering in a sea cave at daybreak. More than a century later, Jean, a photographer working on a photoessay of the murders has arrived with her entire family - her husband, Thomas, and five-year-old daughter, Billie - on a boat skippered by her brother-in-law, Rich, and Rich's girlfriend Adaline. As Jean is immersed in the 19th-century murders while working on the photoessay, Thomas and Adaline find themselves drawn together - with potentially ruinous consequences. I thought this was a brilliant book, riveting storylines. I give it an A+!
VirtualWord on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shreve, as usual, drew me in again with her tale of double murders a century apart in New Hampshire. When a photojournalist Jean is sent to research the older murders at a remote island lighthouse she is accompanied by her husband, daughter, brother-in-law and his girlfriend. The interpersonal relationships in this tale seem to parallel each other in many aspects and while I would not say it caused white knuckle tension I do say that Shreve is an artist at getting you so involved with the characters its imperative you know the outcome of the tensions among the present day characters.
vasquirrel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dark and brooding, The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve looks at what is seen on the surface and what lives in the depths of the human psyche. Shreve skillfully blends the experiences of a troubled couple and their young daughter, aboard a boat off of the coast of Massachusetts,with a century-old murder on the island they anchor near. Both stories are compelling, the latter based on actual events of the late 1800's.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Weight of Water is a book I just read for my book group. Anita Shreve's books aren't normally ones I would pick to read, so this was a bit of a challenge. I have to say that I didn't really care too much for the modern-day people and their woes. I just couldn't relate to the female characters here (either Jean or Adaline) as real people with real problems. However, I did enjoy the story about the Norwegian immigrants who came to Smuttynose Island. They had some serious issues to deal with, especially Maren, none the least of which were isolation, both mental and physical. Plus, a mystery always grabs me, and this one was based, in part, on real murders committed on that Island sometime back in the 1870s. Overall, it was okay, and I say that because of the story from the past. The modern-day characterization was just kind of blah, and I think that it detracted from my reading and from trying to get a handle on the four people on the boat in the modern story. I'd recommend it, but with reservations. I'm not a chick-lit kind of person, but I think readers who are will probably like the book much more than myself.
jamaicanmecrazy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved this historical murder/mystery/modern day story of betrayal. Anita Shreve is the master of weaving past & present.
librisissimo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting story of the murders on the Isles of Shoals. Intercutting with "current" story was OK, but sometimes confusing. "Confession" supposedly translated from the Norwegian was far too complex and erudite for its supposed author. A better-than-average Romance, but not quite literature.
DivineMissW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoy how this author tells a story. She gives you enough t o keep you interested without frustrating you. Delightfull!
emers0207 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shreve always has an emotional story to tell and this is no exception. weaving past and present together we learn about an old mystery. I enjoyed the past story and she did an wonderful job of exploring the psychological affects of isolation and loneliness.
jennstarr12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book esentially tells two tales. One of the current day strife between Jean and he husband Thomas and the other of a years old murder. I found the parts about the trial itself to be ratehr boring. The mystery was also very predictable. The end was a shocker though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
steveforbertfan More than 1 year ago
A nearly flawless novel. Contains all the elements necessary to make it a good easy read, but yet it is multi-layered and deep beyond imagining. The two stories being told at the same time adds to the drama and eventual climax which is somewhat expected yet unexpected. This is truly Shreve's crowning achievement.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Main character was selfish and unsympathetic, as well as irresponsible. Historical story was more engaging, but it just felt like too much work to slog through it all. Then with the expectedly "unexpected" twist at the end she lost me entirely - Main reaction was annoyance. Not a satisfying investment of time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best stories ever! A must-read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Half way through this book, I knew I had made a mistake paying $10. This was the most confusing book I have ever read. Half the time I didn't know what time period the author was writing about. It was back and forth, back and forth. The past events were so intertwined with the present that I made no connection with any of the characters. What role did Adeline play other than her sexual relationship with Rich and flirting with Thomas? Jean and Thomas were so mismatched in their marriage, totally opposite personalities. The character of little Billie was the only thing that made this story bearable. Anita Shreve totally missed the mark on this book. What I fail to understand is all the raving reviews in the first few pages. Are they referring to this book!" Even if a book is not up to my style of writing, I'll still recommend it, but in this case I do not. This should be under the $5 and under book list.