Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Change in Altitude

Anita Shreve is an immensely successful popular fiction author and yet I had read none of her stories prior to this one. A Change in Altitude is the story of a marriage transformed by a singular tragic minor fleeting event. Not an indiscretion, but more a kneejerk reaction to physical stress. It is a compelling and quick read, perfect for this weather, ideal for at the cottage or a weekend at the beach. A Change in Altitude is very much plot-driven and characters, while interesting, are somewhat two-dimensional. This is the story of a newly married couple, Patrick and Margaret, both 28 as the novel opens, who have moved, following Patrick's career to Nairobi for medical research. When the story begins, the newlyweds are living with Arthur and Diana, a well-to-do, condescending British couple of landlords. The themes here of love and loss and soul-searching with a backdrop of harsh unforgiving elements are not uncommon, and some might say overdone. A struggling relationship juxtaposed with a harsh African climate is certainly a story that has been told, again and again. And yet despite all of the superficialilities here, it is a nice read. No great turn of phrase that made my heart skip a beat, wishing I had thought of it myself. No masterful suspense, or great unexpected twist at the end. There are moments that will shock you, and in the interest of not giving too much away I will simply state that this is the story of a couple who go climbing Mount Kenya, in harshest African environment, without much training, preparation or thought and, accompanied by friends, on this life-altering physical journey they experience a devastating event that transforms all four of their lives. What follows the ill-thought out climb is the unravelling and piecing together of a marriage, and perhaps a bit of self discovery on the part of Margaret. Shreve's detail of climbing Mount Kenya is brutally realistic and detailed, as it should be, because the author herself has climbed this mountain. Shreve is billed as a master of domestic drama and she dwells a lot on psychology of relationships, but her hand is somehow a lighter touch than that of similar authors like Jodi Picoult. While I enjoyed reading this book for a change and realize not every book can rip your heart out and leave you changed as a reader, I unfortunately suspect this book is easy to forget, as are the characters. Shreve lives in Massachusetts and is the well known author of The Weight of Water, Testimony, The Pilot's Wife, Light on Snow and many others.

Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group, Back Bay Books, New York, 2009. Paperback edition 2010, $17.99 Canada and $14.99 U.S.

Thriftymommas rating $$$ out of $$$$$. Three dollar signs out of five. Lightweight, untaxing. Great for a day at the beach. Thriftymomma's opinions are all her own. I receive no compensation for my reviews, but a copy of this book was provided by the publisher for free so that I might review it.


Kathy said...

I have read a couple of Shreve books, though not this one. I think my favorite of hers was The Last Time They Met. I recommend it if you ever want to read more Shreve.

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