The Weight of Water and The Fictional World of Archives

Original Novel Title: The Weight of Water
Author: Anita Shreve
Publisher: Little Brown & Company, January 1997 (hardcover); January 1998 (paperback)

Tina Cohen submitted this summary:

The book tells two stories. The contemporary story, set in 1995, is about a woman photographer, Jean, visiting Smuttynose Island off the coast of New Hampshire where in 1873 two women were murdered with an ax. She is preparing a photoessay on the crime which will include research in an archives collection nearby on the coast (Portsmouth). The story that unfolds is of loneliness, jealousy, and distrust. Jean becomes immersed in that story through her research, and it takes on increased meaning because it resonates with her own life at the time. As she is doing this research, her husband, daughter, and another couple are sharing the trip, all of them living on the friend's sailboat as they cruise the New England coast. When Jean visits the archives for material, she peruses the collection to see what is pertinent. A librarian hands over "several books and folders of papers." (p. 36) She decides she is justified in "borrowing" papers that have caught her attention as particularly meaningful. The rest of the novel develops the story as told in archival materials, Jean's reaction, and how the women's stories are inter-related.

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CONTENTS: The Fictional World of Archives

Submitted by Tina Cohen, archivist and librarian at Deerfield Academy, Deerfield MA, 2002.04.19. Updated 2002.04.24.