"Tides" is a brief novel, told in intense, concentrated scenes, some no longer than a sentence. It is the story of one autumn and winter in the life of Mara, a woman who has left her home, her husband and her town for reasons that only gradually become clear to the reader. What is clear is that she is in profound pain. Her brother and his wife and baby lived downstairs from her, and she fled them as well. "She could no longer live in this fixed way: their joy so firmly lodged beneath her grief." And so she takes off, washing up in a coastal village that buttons down in the winter once the tourists are gone.

Mara sleeps on the beach; she scrounges for food; she has no coat. Eventually she takes a job in a wine shop. The money isn't enough and she sneaks upstairs after hours to sleep in the storeroom, steals food and half-bottles of wine from the shop. The shop owner, Simon, is another damaged soul and they slowly begin to warm to one another. The brittle shards of story conceal great emotion; if Mara let down her guard, you think, the pain would drown her.

But as the book progresses, her story grows clearer and she allows herself to feel. The ending isn't happy, exactly, but there is hope. This brief novel is touching but not depressing, bleak but also beautiful.


By: Sara Freeman.

Publisher: Grove, 240 pages, $26.