cover image Where or When

Where or When

Anita Shreve. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $19.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-15-131461-4

The author of the well-received Eden Close and Strange Fits of Passion exhibits an enhanced mastery of her craft in this potent tale of middle-aged passion. An affecting novel that will probably attract readers of The Bridges of Madison County , it offers the further rewards of psychologically nuanced characterizations and a thoughtful exploration of the relationship between sexuality and time. When 44-year-old real estate insurance salesman Charles Callahan sees a photograph of poet Sian Richards, he recognizes her as the young woman he met three decades earlier at a Catholic camp for teenagers. Impulsively, he writes Sian, and sets in motion the love affair they were destined to have. Though both are married and have children, each is unfulfilled, craving true partnership. Parallels between their lives are evident but not forced: Charles's Rhode Island fishing community is suffering badly from the recession, and he is about to lose his office building and his home; Sian's husband cannot scratch a living from their Pennsylvania onion farm. Charles attended a seminary for two years; Sian considered taking orders. Significantly, though each has fallen away from the Church, they still think and speak in religious imagery: Charles calls himself ``an insurer of life, a kind of secular priest,'' and such terms as venial sins, sacrilege, epiphany, state of grace, guilt and absolution come naturally to both of them. Shreve makes the vortex of their obsession entirely believable, controlling the narrative with authority and restraint. The haunting song of the title provides a leitmotif for a lyrical and increasingly suspenseful narrative told in clear and evocative prose. Author tour. (June)