The Weight of Water, by Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve's The Weight of Water has been around for a while [1997], but I'd never read it until a friend suggested that maybe I could find it in the public library, and that it would be the perfect literary accompaniment to a summer vacation planned around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the nearby coast of Maine.  How right she was. 

Shreve structures a page-turner around a murder that occured on Appledore Island, one of the tiny rocky components of the Isles of Shoals, located in the Atlantic less than ten miles out from Portsmouth.  The murder occurred in 1873, scandalized and horrified at the time, and resulted in the last hanging in the state of Maine.

The novel is a first-person narrative set in our own time, the protagonist a photographer on assignment to capture images of the island to accompany a magazine article about the murder. As she explores the dramatically isolated harsh and rocky terrain where the crime occurred, the narrator's artistic eye captures and renders surface detail and her mind's eye envisions what life must have been like for the individuals inhabiting that confined space.

We share the background research she does for her photo shoot and are immersed in the lives of the fishermen's wives who were the victims:

From the book jacket:  "the barrenness of these women's days: the ardor-killing labor, the long stretches of loneliness, the maddening relentless winds that threatened to scour them off the rocky island. How could a marriage survive those privations? Was this misery connected to the killings?"

It becomes apparent, as the events of the novel unfold, that our protagonist, confined aboard a small boat with her family, is treading similarly trying emotional terrain, where issues of trust, betrayal, destructive passion, and guilt wreak havok.

Here is an excerpt from the book on Google Book preview.