Summary and book reviews of Fortune's Rocks by Anita Shreve

Fortune's Rocks

A Novel

By Anita Shreve

Fortune's Rocks
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  • Hardcover: Dec 1999,
    435 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2001,
    464 pages.

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Book Summary

A stunning new work from Anita Shreve, the author of the acclaimed bestsellers The Pilot's Wife and The Weight of Water, Fortune's Rocks is a profound and moving story about unwise love and the choices that transform a life.

On a beach in New Hampshire at the turn of the last century, a young woman is drawn into a rocky, disastrous passage to adulthood. Olympia Biddeford is the only child of a prominent Boston couple--a precocious and well-educated daughter, alive with ideas and flush with the first stirrings of maturity. Her summer at the family's vacation home in Fortune's Rocks is transformed by the arrival of a doctor, a friend of her father's, whose new book about mill-town laborers has caused a sensation. Olympia is captivated by his thinking, his stature, and his drive to do right--even as she is overwhelmed for the first time by irresistible sexual desire. She and the doctor--a married man, a father, and nearly three times her age--come together in an unthinkable, torturous, hopelessly passionate affair. Throwing aside propriety and self-preservation, Olympia plunges forward with cataclysmic results that are the price of straying in an unforgiving era. Olympia is cast out of the world she knows, and Fortune's Rocks is the story of her determination to reinvent her broken life--and claim the one thing she finds she cannot live without.

A meditation on the erotic life of women, an exploration of class prejudices, and most of all a portrayal of the thoughts and actions of an unforgettable young woman, Fortune's Rocks is a masterpiece of narrative drama, beautifully written by one of the most accomplished novelists of our time.

Chapter One

In the time it takes for her to walk from the bathhouse at the seawall of Fortune's Rocks, where she has left her boots and has discreetly pulled off her stockings, to the waterline along which the sea continually licks the pink and silver sanhe learns about desire. Desire that slows the breath, that causes a preoccupied pause in the midst of uttering a sentence, that focuses the gaze absolutely on the progress of naked feet walking toward the water. This first brief awareness of desire—and of being the object of desire, a state of which she has had no previous hint—comes to her as a kind of slow seizure, as of air compressing itself all around her, and causes what seems to be the first faint shudder of her adult life.

She touches the linen brim of her hat, as she would not have done a summer earlier, nor even a day earlier. Perhaps she fingers the hat's long tulle sash as well. Around her and behind her, there are men in bathing costumes or in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
In a summer community on the coast of New Hampshire at the turn of the last century, a girl is drawn into a passionate affair with a man nearly three times her age. Fortune's Rocks is the story of Olympia Biddeford — privileged, well educated, and mature beyond her years — and her affair with John Haskell, who is married with three children. Drawn together on the night of the summer solstice, the pair set in motion a series of events with far-reaching consequences for all involved. This is a haunting novel about an unforgettable young woman and the tragic consequences of reckless love.


Questions for Discussion
  1. Is Olympia's innocence in the opening scene believable?

  2. How did the absence of strong female role ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
New York Times - Christopher Lehmann—Haupt

Engagingly told.... The plot draws you into its increasing tension.

Providence Journal - Sam Coale

Keeps you on the edge of your seat.... Fortune's Rocks is a splendid novel that you won't be able to put down.

Baltimore Sun - Victoria Brownworth

Enthralling.

Seattle Times - Valerie Ryan

A beautifully written narrative, rich in detail and in a style that has the perfection of a snowflake and all the passion and intensity of first love.

Boston Globe - Katherine A. Powers

Fortune's Rocks kept me reading long into the night—and found me back at it right after breakfast.... Shreve renders an adolescent girl's plunge into disastrous passion with excruciating precision and acuteness.

Hartford Courant - Jocelyn McClurg

A deliciously intelligent page-turner.... A succulent novel of forbidden Victorian passion.... It has a morally complex heroine, a breakneck narrative, and an emotional story filled with unpredictable twists and turns.

Publishers Weekly

A milestone in her career, a marvel of freshness. The level of suspense never falters, but becomes breathtaking. The astounding denouement of cascading events will leave no reader unmoved. Shreve's hand has never been so sure as it is here. This book should take off like a rocket.

Reader Reviews
Gilly

Hauntingly good.
Any novel that sustains a reader's interest beyond average enjoyment is a success, but this novel gets deep into the soul. Shreve writes like Jane Austen, she has a gifted ability to see shades of truth, deceit, hope, despair and denial in all of ...   Read More

liezle

Book for the Senses
At first, I was a little apprehensive in reading this book. I was a little grossed out by the concept of a 15 yr old having sex with a 40 yr old guy. As I read it, I began to envy Olympia and Heskell. The kind of love described in the book is almost ...   Read More

Elanah Callagan

Fortune's Rocks
Out of the many books Shreve has written, Fortune's Rocks is the best. The others are also fantastic, but the extent to which she draws out the emotions in FR's is incredible. I read this book straight through the night; I couldn't put it down. It's ...   Read More

Alison

As a 18 year old female, I loved Fortune's Rocks, not simply because of Shreve's elegant way of telling a story, but because of the intensity with which you can share the character's emotions. She writes about Olympia's new sexuality and her ...   Read More

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