A wife risks every chance of domestic happiness by heading to the front long before America's entry into the Great War.
A woman awakens in a field hospital in Marne, France, in 1916. Fragments of memory surface: She recalls that she was serving near the front as a nurse’s aide and ambulance driver before suffering a shrapnel wound and shell shock and that her name is Stella Bain. Driven to seek answers about her identity from the Admiralty in London, she travels there and, ill, is taken in by August Bridge, a cranial surgeon, and his wife, Lily. Experimenting with the new field of psychoanalysis, August strives to restore Stella’s memory: She draws a series of scenes that provide clues, not least to the fact that she is an accomplished artist. At the Admiralty, she is recognized by Samuel, an officer there, and her past floods back—she is Etna Van Tassel, not Stella Bain. A flashback reveals that Etna and Samuel were young lovers in New Hampshire and that she begged Samuel, in front of his brother Phillip, not to marry another, to no avail. She married a dour Dutch professor, until a baseless scandal he fomented involving their teenage daughter and Phillip drove Etna—and Phillip—to France as a volunteer. Phillip and Etna’s affinity blossoms into affection as the duo, both ambulance drivers, steal moments together amid the carnage and horror of trench warfare. Although the novel’s structure is somewhat disjointed, and the preliminary amnesiac chapters seem gratuitous in light of the full revelations that follow, the characters are well-drawn and sympathetic. Many surprises are in store.
An exemplary addition to Shreve’s already impressive oeuvre.