Sea Glass begins with the introduction of Sexton and Honora in 1929 New Hampshire. Their brief courtship in leads to marriage and life in house on the coast. The two barely make ends meet with Sexton's typewriter sales commission checks. Honora spends her days walking along the isolated beach, collecting bits of colored sea glass.
Readers are also introduced to the other major characters. McDermott is a twenty year-old loom fixer. Francis is merely a boy, struggling to grow amid his family's extreme poverty. Vivian is a bored, wealthy woman who will come to play a large role in the lives of the others.
The characters move independently at first, but a strike at the town's mills eventually draws them together. The beach house becomes the organizers' meeting place. A new set of complex relationships is formed.
Shreve's tale progresses through the various characters' viewpoints and readers learn that appearances are not what they seem. Sexton's questionable behavior leads Honora to lose confidence in her marriage. McDermott struggles with his growing affections for Honora, as well as his dislike of Sexton. Young Francis gets a taste of family life and Vivian learns to exist outside her small, wealthy world.
The story here is in the characters themselves. Shreve creates complex individuals each spinning in separate orbits. It's fascinating to watch these beings as they gravitate toward the inevitable collision.
Fans of the author may recognize the beach-house setting from some of her previous work. The 1929-30 time frame is ideal, greatly enhancing the events. Shreve is among the talented few that can create a story that's character driven. What a relief to see a cast whose actions propel the tale rather than existing as puppets in a pre-conceived plot.
Just as the players come together, Shreve delivers a shattering climax. The characters find they are again individuals. Each must cope with the events in his or her own way. Their life paths will be filled with many battles and the scars to prove it, just like the very sea glass they treasure.