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by Anita Shreve
Little, Brown & Company, May 2003
310 pages
ISBN: 0316782262

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Nicholas Van Tassel is a professor in the small New England college town of Thrupp. His life was to change dramatically when, on a cold day in 1899, he ate a meal in the townıs hotel. While he was eating, a fire broke out in the kitchen. It destroyed the building and killed many people, but Nicholas managed to get out alive. As he watched the hotel burn he got his first glimpse of a woman whose face and form immediately captured his heart. Near her was an older lady and a child. The three were standing in the snow, without any coats on. They had just escaped the fire and were visibly shaken. He soon found out the older woman was the wife of a fellow professor at Thrupp and the young woman of his dreams was Etna Bliss, the professorıs niece.   

There was something about Etna that attracted Nicholas. Before saying one word to her, he was determined to make the wonderful young woman his wife. Nicholas hired a carriage and brought them all back to Professor William Blissıs residence where Etna was staying for a prolonged visit.

Etna was recently put out of her family home. Upon her mother's death, her brother-in-law took the house in payment of the debts owned him and had ordered Etna to leave.

Nicholas soon started visiting Etna, taking her on walks, buying her gifts, and eventually asking her for her hand. After considering the proposal for weeks Etna finally agrees to the marriage, though she confesses that she doesnıt love him.

ALL HE EVER WANTED is written from Nicholasıs perspective. Thirty-four years after the beginning of the story, Nicholas starts to writehis memoirs on his way to his sisterıs funeral in Florida.

Nicholas tells his tale; heıs a man who is very much in love with his wife but he knows that his love is not returned. Etna is a very independent woman. She tolerates her existence with her husband but also dreams of another life. She volunteers at a home for women and children, is one of the first women in town who learns how to drive a car, and she somehow buys a secret cottage for her own use.

Looking back on the last thirty-four years of his life, Nicholas is very honest about the mistakes he made in the marriage. While he may blame Etna for a portion of the problems he also blames himself.

I didnıt care for this novel when I first started reading it. The beginning doesnıt have much dialogue and the story is told to the readers, which made it a little boring. And then I finally got into it. Once I became used to the method author Anita Shreve used in writing this, her latest novel, I became engrossed in the story.

Ms. Shreve does an outstanding job in telling the tale using the same style of language that someone who grew up in the late 19th century and lived into the early 20th century would use. Also, where some authors might have problems writing as the opposite gender, Ms. Shreve does an excellent job.

The reader is drawn deeply into the book as we wait for Nicholas to explain why some things happened. I give Ms. Shreve credit for handling this story in the way she did. We are sharing Nicholsıs memoirs, a man who couldnıt understand why his wife didnıt return his passion. Because he was a man of his times, where men and women had strict boundaries on their life and where there was little openness between husband and wife, Nicholas never understood why things went so wrong. The readers, therefore, are only privy to Nicholasıs explanation of what he imagined happened to his marriage.

I would definitely recommend this book even if youıre not a lover of romance novels, though Iım not sure if this book can be strictly thought of in that genre. The story line is unique and all the characters are nicely written, even the minor ones. There are quite a few plot surprises as well which will keep you turning the pages.

Read this book for Anita Shreveıs clever style. It might remind you of Virgina Wolfıs A ROOM OF ONEıS OWN.

ALL HE EVER WANTED is a first-rate piece of writing.

Reviewed by Sharon Katz, May 2003

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