Title: The House on Oyster Creek
Author: Heidi Jon Schmidt
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Publisher: NAL Trade
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5
Charlotte Tradescombe is dissatisfied with her life. The only source of happiness she has is her four-year-old daughter, Fiona. Her much-older husband, Henry, seems to have no time or patience for her or their daughter. On impulse, Charlotte decides to move out to her husband’s family home on Cape Cod. In order to raise money to fix up the place, she convinces Henry to sell off part of the land, which has repercussions for the local oyster farmers that she couldn’t have predicted.
The House on Oyster Creek is an atmospheric novel that reads as a mix between a contemporary style of literary fiction and women’s fiction. Though the subject matter and Charlotte’s struggles definitely categorize it as women’s fiction, Schmidt’s beautiful writing elevates the level of this novel, bringing it a sophistication that wouldn’t necessarily be expected in this genre.
The information about oyster farming and the fight between the locals and the people who buy the Tradescombes’ land is fascinating and is really the highlight of this book. Schmidt does a great job highlighting how little things have changed in these areas over the years, but how much they are being forced to change now. She also raises the question whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing – maybe doing things a different way is what’s best for these communities. On the other hand, people lose their livelihoods because of issues like this. I appreciated how involved Charlotte got in this dispute and how she felt responsible because she was the one who made the decision to sell off the land without thinking about the consequences. Schmidt highlights how much people can make a difference, in both good and bad ways.
Unfortunately, Charlotte’s personal story was less captivating than the secondary storyline of oyster farming. It’s possible that the writing was a little too atmospheric – it made it difficult to really connect with Charlotte as a character. Though she definitely didn’t have it easy with Henry, I found that I didn’t really have a lot of sympathy for her. My attention wandered every time the book focused on her, rather than the larger issues facing the townspeople. As this thread is a very large part of the overall plot, it hampered my enjoyment of this book.
The House on Oyster Creek was an interesting novel, though the writing style makes it a bit heavier than your typical beach read. Though I didn’t love it, it was still a solid read that had some very interesting information in it. It’s made me curious about Schmidt as an author, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her future novels.