In 1938, the Swift River Valley in Massachusetts is slated to be flooded in order to create a reservoir. Its residents are evicted, their homes torn down, even their dead exhumed. Into this doomed world comes 17-year-old Sarianna Renway, a girl who identifies more with the dead poet Emily Dickinson than with her own contemporaries. Disenchanted with college life, alone and adrift, she hopes to find herself among the lost. Sarianna has taken a job as tutor to the eleven-year-old son of Reverend Jeremy Treat and his young wife Una. Reverend Treat, more passionate than compassionate, is determined to offer what solace he can to the dispossessed of the valley. The symbolism of the coming flood provides fodder for his fiery sermons. Una, his child-like wife, welcomes the tutor as more than a friend, more than a sister, in fact, as another self. The romantic-minded Sarianna is quite willing to assume Una’s identity. In this way she will become lover to Una’s husband, and wife to Una’s long-lost – perhaps dead? – lover. This much is foretold in the prologue, but the hows and whys are much more complex.
In extraordinarily lush and dreamy prose, Sarianna narrates how she became caught up in the obsessive eternal love between Una Treat and Ethan Vear, whose gravestone states he died by his own hand on the day of Una’s marriage. Billed as a literary gothic historical novel, The Taking is a leisurely book, laden with symbolism and digression, yet it remains compelling until the last ghost is laid to rest.