WHERE OR WHEN by Anita Shreve


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 Shreve, who mixed up such a potent brew of love and tragedy in her earlier Eden Close (1989) and Strange Fits of Passion (1991), serves us something else here--slightly sweeter but also thinner, something that for all its fizz feels flat by the end. Charles Callahan, a 44-year-old Rhode Island insurance broker, is a man who has deep feelings but finds himself emotionally thwarted in the life he leads. He loves his three children, but his marriage to Harriet is passionless. He also knows too many sad, painful secrets about friends and acquaintances, and he's powerless to help. When he chances upon a photograph of poet SiÉn Richards in the Sunday newspaper, his life changes. SiÉn was his first love, 31 years ago at summer camp. Now, at Charles's instigation, the two childhood sweethearts begin corresponding and, before long, resume their old romance. SiÉn, married to melancholy, reserved Stephen, has suffered the loss of a child, and, after some hesitation, she allows herself to turn to Charles with the same urgency he feels for her. Shreve evokes this emotional buildup deftly, complete with stirring old songs and flashbacks to teenaged love, unforgettable in its combination of innocence and intensity. What never does come through here, though, is any real sense of Charles's and SiÉn's marriages. Stephen remains a shadow figure, and Harriet is almost cartoonish--a parody of middle-aged housewife in her pink sweatsuit. There's no real conflict, then--we root for the adulterous lovers. That's why, when tragedy strikes at the end, turning the story into a morality play, it seems all wrong--it's irritating rather than tragic. Love, lust, and redemption all too quickly reduced to sinners who must pay for their sins--but, still, a seductive parable with great mood music.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-15-131461-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993


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