two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
By: 
Anita Shreve
user_rating: 
0

A-A Change in AltitudeAnita Shreve is the author of more than a dozen best-selling novels, including The Last Time They Met, (2001) Light on Snow ( 3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2005), A Wedding in December ( 2.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2006), and the 1999 Oprah Book Club selection The Pilot's Wife.

The Story: In the 1970s, American newlyweds Margaret and Patrick set off for Kenya in what they believe to be the trip of a lifetime. Not long after their arrival, Margaret, a photojournalist, realizes there is much about her husband, a doctor specializing in equatorial diseases, that remains a mystery. Their already tenuous relationship threatens to further unravel when an invitation to climb Mount Kenya with another couple leads to a tragic accident. As Margaret grapples with her role in the catastrophe, she learns some hard truths about herself, her marriage, and her future.
Little, Brown. 307 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780316020701

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Shreve packs an impressive amount of sympathetic and intelligent detail into this narrative, but ultimately the novel is more interested in Margaret's gooey self-discovery and the resolution of her romantic dilemma. But Shreve's introduction to recent Kenyan history, however romanticized, may lead readers, like Margaret, to learn more about the country's rich ethnic cultures and ongoing political struggles." Valerie Sayers

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"Ironically, the story skips along as the six trudge up through mud, scree and ice toward a harrowing climax. It's the second half, after tragedy, that feels labored, when mountain-as-metaphor for persevering through and enduring life's obstacles seems trite." Olivia Barker

Entertainment Weekly 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Shreve ... brings the continent vividly to life, but never quite injects her characters with the same immediacy. Margaret remains a cipher, and not a particularly likable one at that; it's as if she exists behind a hazy scrim of mosquito netting--of the story, but never truly in it." Leah Greenblatt

San Antonio Exp-News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Margaret's point of view is a good path for telling the story, but Margaret as a central character has little appeal. No other character comes to the rescue, with the possible exception of Kenya itself." David Hendricks

Los Angeles Times 1 of 5 Stars
"[T]his novel is a mess. ... Shreve needs to spend less time in the upper altitudes and more weeding and pruning this plain old garden." Diana Wagman

Critical Summary

As a young woman, Shreve spent three years working as a journalist in Nairobi, Kenya, and her vivid descriptions clearly show an affection for the East African nation. Unfortunately, most critics found the setting to be the novel's only redeeming quality. Shreve, known for crafting complex, multilayered protagonists, ultimately fails here. Critics unanimously expressed their disappointment in Margaret's character and described her as dull, unlikable, and frequently obtuse. The critic from the Los Angeles Times also felt that the constant use of "anachronisms in attitude and dialogue" rendered the book unreadable. A Change in Altitude is for die-hard Shreve fans only.