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ALL HE EVER WANTED By Anita Shreve All He Ever Wanted is the stilted and unfulfilling tale of one man’s obsession with a woman he glimpses as she and others escape from a hotel fire in early 1900s New England. College professor of no distinction Nicholas Van Tassel sees the face of Etna Bliss and is, with all of the stereotype you’d imagine, completely smitten. (And yes – the word play on her name Bliss is as obvious and exhausting as you might imagine, even though the narrator apologizes for it periodically throughout the story.)
Professor Van Tassel forgets everything – his teaching, his scholarship, his integrity, his soul – in order to pursue this admittedly plain woman until he wins her. And he succeeds, although it is a Phyric victory because she admits that while she will wed him, she does not love him and never will. Foolish man thinks he can change her. How many have made this mistake – marrying in the hopes that the beloved will change?
The most interesting aspect of the novel is the limited narration from the perspective of Professor Van Tassel in the present. The majority of the story is a flashback to the mistakes and misery of his past, but for the few pages that he shares his current longings with the reader – the longings of a regretful older man – those felt more sincere and worth reading.
Some fans of Anita Shreeve told me they enjoyed this period piece even though the language is slightly off-putting, but they preferred her earlier novels Sea Glass and Fortunes Rocks. On the Bestseller list for five weeks, I give a lukewarm recommendation to Anita Shreeve’s new novel – All He Ever Wanted. On the Book Beat for KSL Newsradio, I’m Amanda Dickson.