Stella Bain (Shreve)

Stella Bain 
Anita Shreve, 2013
Little, Brown & Co.
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316098861

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse's aide near the front, but she can't remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield.

In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—Dedham, Massachusetts, USA
Education—B.A. Tufts University
Awards—PEN/L.L. Winship Award; O. Henry Prize
Currently—lives in Longmeadow, Massachusetts

Anita Shreve is the acclaimed author of nearly 20 books—including two works of nonfiction and 17 of fiction. Her novels include, most recently, Stella Bain (2013), as well as The Weight of Water (1997), a finalist for England's Orange prize; The Pilot's Wife (1998), a selection of Oprah's Book Club; All He Even Wanted (2003), Body Surfing (2007); Testimony (2008); A Change in Altitude (2010). She lives in Massachusetts. (From the publisher.)


For many readers, the appeal of Anita Shreve’s novels is their ability to combine all of the escapist elements of a good beach read with the kind of thoughtful complexity not generally associated with romantic fiction. Shreve’s books are loaded with enough adultery, eroticism, and passion to make anyone keep flipping the pages, but the writer whom People magazine once dubbed a “master storyteller” is also concerned with the complexities of her characters’ motivations, relationships, and lives.

Shreve’s novels draw on her diverse experiences as a teacher and journalist: she began writing fiction while teaching high school, and was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975 for her story, "Past the Island, Drifting." She then spent several years working as a journalist in Africa, and later returned to the States to raise her children. In the 1980s, she wrote about women’s issues, which resulted in two nonfiction books—Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone—before breaking into mainstream fiction with Eden Close in 1989.

This interest in women’s lives—their struggles and success, families and friendships—informs all of Shreve’s fiction. The combination of her journalist’s eye for detail and her literary ear for the telling turn of phrase mean that Shreve can spin a story that is dense, atmospheric, and believable. Shreve incorporates the pull of the sea—the inexorable tides, the unpredictable surf—into her characters’ lives the way Willa Cather worked the beauty and wildness of the Midwestern plains into her fiction. In Fortune’s Rocks and The Weight of Water, the sea becomes a character itself, evocative and ultimately consuming. In Sea Glass, Shreve takes the metaphor as far as she can, where characters are tested again and again, only to emerge stronger by surviving the ravages of life.

A domestic sensualist, Shreve makes use of the emblems of household life to a high degree, letting a home tell its stories just as much as its inhabitants do, and even recycling the same house through different books and periods of time, giving it a sort of palimpsest effect, in which old stories burn through the newer ones, creating a historical montage. "A house with any kind of age will have dozens of stories to tell," she says. "I suppose if a novelist could live long enough, one could base an entire oeuvre on the lives that weave in and out of an antique house."

Shreve’s work is sometimes categorized as "women’s fiction," because of her focus on women’s sensibilties and plights. But her evocative and precise language and imagery take her beyond category fiction, and moderate the vein of sentimen-tality which threads through her books. Moreover, her kaleidoscopic view of history, her iron grip on the details and detritus of 19th-century life (which she sometimes inter-sperses with a 20th-century story), and her uncanny ability to replicate 19th-century dialogue without sounding fusty or fussy, make for novels that that are always absorbing and often riveting. If she has a flaw, it is that her imagery is sometimes too cinematic, but one can hardly fault her for that: after all, the call of Hollywood is surely as strong as the call of the sea for a writer as talented as Shreve. (Adapted from Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
Shreve’s 17th novel is a tragic yet hopeful story of love, memory, loss, and rebuilding. A young woman wakes up with amnesia in a battlefield hospital tent in Marne, France, in 1916. She thinks her name is Stella Bain, and she thinks she knows how to nurse and drive an ambulance.... The novel is both tender and harsh, and the only false note is the use of present tense, which prevents the reader from being pulled in more closely. Shreve’s thoughtful, provocative, historical tale has modern resonance.
Publishers Weekly

Shreve is back with a period piece that will keep readers thinking. In the midst of World War I, a woman finds herself lost and alone in London with no idea of who she is or how she got there.... As the story unfolds, Stella does find her identity and the reasons that made her abandon her American family and head off to Europe to help in the war.... [A]n emotional conclusion.... As usual, [Shreve's] plotlines and domestic drama do not disappoint. —Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC
Library Journal

 A woman awakens in a field hospital in Marne, France, in 1916. Fragments of memory surface: She recalls that she was serving near the front as a nurse's aide and ambulance driver before suffering a shrapnel wound and shell shock and that her name is Stella Bain.... Although the novel's structure is somewhat disjointed, and the preliminary amnesiac chapters seem gratuitous in light of the full revelations that follow, the characters are well-drawn and sympathetic. Many surprises are in store. An exemplary addition to Shreve's already impressive oeuvre.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

We'll add specific questions if and when they're made available by the publisher.

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2018