Many of Anita Shreve’s characters share the fact that they have lost a close family member at an important time in their lives. Etna Bliss’ future in All He Ever Wanted is set in motion by the fact that her parents have died and she must go to Ely Falls to stay with her uncle. Andrew meets the adopted Eden in Eden Close when he returns home for his own mother’s funeral. Thomas Janes in The Weight of Water and The Last Time They Met is dealing with the death of his five-year old daughter, Billie. Kathryn Lyons’ husband dies in a plane crash in The Pilot’s Wife and is forced to examine her life in a new way.
The death of a parent is one of the unexpected events in a person’s life that can send it in a new direction, to a new physical or emotional place. The death of a child can also change a relationship—in the case of Thomas Janes, it breaks up his marriage to Jean. The death of a husband can expose a different side of the spouse left behind, and the one that has died. Grief can cause someone to fall in love with the wrong person, to be forced to interact with a new environment, to explore elements of the self that they never knew existed.
In Testimony, Anna Quinney is forced to deal with her son’s death and the knowledge that her son died hating her.