Sea glass begins as normal shards of broken glass that are then persistently tumbled and ground until the sharp edges are smoothed and rounded. In this process, the glass loses its slick surface but gains a frosted appearance.
This was the first book I've read by Anita Shreve and I enjoyed the steady, slow pace that many readers have complained of. When so many characters emerge, it is necessary to take time for a proper introduction so the reader can make a connection with all involved. Sea Glass takes place during the stock market crash of 1929, against a New England setting, where every social class is affected by this enormous financial crisis but it is the mill workers story that Shreve tells with such heartbreaking depth and honesty. Men and women struggled to feed, clothe and house large families. Mill owners cut wages that were already too low and workers were forced out of homes, left to the streets or starvation. Workers formed unions and strikes were inevitable. It is here where Shreve explores raw emotions and extreme human conditions. The story is told from several different points of view but mostly centers around the Beechers, Honora-( O-nor-a )and Sexton. Sea Glass explores the many facets of love, friendship, hope, trust, honor, tragedy and loss. I believe that Shreve used sea glass as a metaphor to show how lives are changed and shaped by one's choices, the people we surround ourselves with, friends and those we love and the life that continues to go on, despite our best efforts to control the many situations that we are faced with on a daily basis. Sea glass is tossed around by strong currents and forces until it's rough edges have been worn down. Isn't this how one feels when life throws us a curve and takes a direction we never chose? When one's life becomes complicated, don't we feel as if we have been worn down at the edges, too? However, although battered and bruised, don't we often times recover, bounce back and emerge with hope and a better understanding of ourselves. Perhaps we see the task in front of us as a little less cloudy, with a lot more beauty.
Honora and Sexton are young newlyweds moving into a spacious but run down beach house on the New England coast, in the late-20's. They courted only a short time before they were married and as a result, know very little about the other. Like most newlyweds, they are full of hope for the future together and begin to restore the home. Sexton is an ambitious fellow and will not be content to rent the 3 bedroom home. He is a travelling salesman with a silver tongue and manages to surprise Honora with a newly acquired mortgage from the bank. Honora is an attractive, dutiful wife that Sexton is proud of and she takes pleasure in being his wife. Honora loves the homes location on the beach. During her many walks along the shore, Honora begins to collect the different colored sea glass she finds in the sand, after the waves have receded.
Alphonse is a young boy who works at the mill, where his mother works, too. It is necessary for him to work. His father left the family to manage on their own. There are too many mouths to feed and they live in a run down housing provided by the mill. Alphonse rarely has a day off but makes the most of the time he does. He is at the beach one day watching a young woman collecting something along the waters edge.
McDermott belongs to a group of men, unhappy with the pay cuts and working conditions at the mill, deciding to form a union and strike until their needs are met. Meetings must take place in secret. State militia and thugs are hired by owners of the mills and have been known to retaliate with force against those that threaten to strike. McDermott befriends Alphonse one day, while standing outside of a meeting that takes place next door to the boy's housing. McDermott tells Alphonse that he must not repeat what he sees taking place. McDermott feels sorry for the boy and a great friendship is established between the two. Alphonse worships McDermott.
Vivian is a sophisticated socialite unaffected by the financial crisis that is sweeping the country, wiping entire family fortunes and savings away. She recently acquired a lovely beach home and she is glad to escape the demands of the city. She bores easily but loves the time she spends at the shore. Vivian watches a woman searching for something in the sand and decides to assist. The young woman explains that she has not lost anything and opens her hand to show Vivian her unique collection of sea glass found on the beach. Vivian is intrigued by the young lady.
Sexton was a great travelling typewriter salesman. He made ends meet until the economic crisis that threatens to ruin him. Sexton becomes a man psychologically and physically changed by the effects of the crash. He retreats into himself and hates the failure he believes he has become. How can he look Honora in the eyes? What must she think of him? He is forced to take a job at the mill and live in horrible conditions during the week. Sexton should not be working at the mill, he thinks. He should be in an office. But it is here that Sexton makes a sales pitch that will change his luck once again.
The characters blend together perfectly. Sea Glass is not the story you are looking for if you want adventure and action or boat loads of mystery. Shreve tells a story about a group of people, brought together by circumstance, when the stock market crash will spark a decade long crisis, known as the Great Depression, bringing an end to the roaring 20's and a time of wealth and excess. Sea Glass tells a poignant story that brings change to the lives of all involved. It left this reader broken hearted but hopeful.