In Anita Shreve's newest work, A CHANGE IN ALTITUDE, Margaret and Patrick have only been married a short time when they move to Kenya so that Patrick can practice medicine. His area of expertise is that of equatorial medicine that obviously lends itself to the area that they move to. The time period is the 1970s and Anita Shreve is at her always wonderful, narrative best as she tells of the treacherous mountain hike Margaret and Patrick make up Mount Kenya. Margaret's instincts are wary and she doesn't have good feelings about it even before they start.
They plan the climb with their landlord and his wife, Arthur and Diana, and friends of Diana's, Saartje and Willem. Margaret isn't fond of their pretentious landlord or happy when Willem begins to tell of all the possible dangers they will encounter like the physical side-effects and weather problems. They make a trial hike to get used to things and although Margaret is still uncomfortable with it, she does admit the scenery is glorious as they experience the African horizons. Their pleasure doesn't last long, however, as Margaret is attacked by fire ants that leave stings so intense that she actually has to rip off her clothing. Margaret should have taken this as an omen but instead she goes ahead with the climb.
The actual climb is hardest on Margaret and she is always the slowest in the group. You have to give her credit, I guess, but I believe I would have never have gone in the first place. One horrendous thing after another happens making it a tortuous time which ranges from political arguments, to one of their party winding up romantically interested in another, to an event so unexpected and shocking that all the rest seemed insignificant. Following the tragedy, Margaret questions herself as she thinks a small and harmless action on her part may have prompted the whole disaster.
Subsequently, Margaret tries to recover and proceed with a normal life but her life is changed forever. One thing after another seems to happen and it appears as if nothing will ever be the same, and her marriage is effected as a result. The amount of stress Margaret endures give the reader such empathy for her that they will read on if for no other reason than to see what happens to her.
Anita Shreve has given readers another wonderfully crafted story with beautifully descriptive vignettes and scenery especially in Africa. However, although you do feel sympathetic for Margaret, I myself was frustrated with her. Perhaps the time period it took place in had something to do with it, but I could not believe the relationship she had with Patrick. I found him to be difficult to like and thus it made it hard for me to care what happened to him and his relationship with Margaret. In turn, I was puzzled at how she allowed herself to be treated like she was, and how little self-respect I thought she had. I would never have taken a hike I was so set against with all those good reasons she had, let alone go and live in Kenya with him. Patrick didn't endear himself to me personally so I found it hard to care about the whole underlying theme of a woman trying to make a life for herself and her husband while she made such poor choices. I think Margaret and the other characters were well developed enough to make their parts plausible. However, when I put all the pieces together, I was sad that I didn't like the story as a whole more than I did, as I always adore Shreve's writing. This will have to be put on the bottom of the list of my favorite Anita Shreve books. But when you ask would I recommend it? Yes! I say that as I think your own views and feelings enter into how you perceive these characters and that may be in a much different way than I did. So, yes, based on all the incredible books I have loved of Anita Shreve's, and the narrative expertise she uses in this novel, I say give A CHANGE IN ALTITUDE a chance so that you may form your own opinion.