A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman Summary

Joan Anderson


Unsure what to do after refusing to follow her husband out-of-state for his job, author Joan Anderson decided to spend A Year By the Sea (1999). With her two children grown and her husband off pursuing his professional goals and dreams, Anderson decided to focus on herself. Anderson found herself holed up in her Cape Cod cottage during the off-season where, among other things, she took a job working in a local fish market. To make extra money, she took up clamming, a local hobby and livelihood.

Anderson's story is peppered with quotes, parables and prophetic sayings by women who appreciate the natural world. In the year that she spent alone, Anderson became incredibly self-sufficient, observant and introspective; it is as though her life paralleled the ebb and flow of the tide and the seasons on Cape Cod. Over the course of that fateful year, Anderson swims with the seals, communes with nature and finds herself rejuvenated by the sea. In addition to reconnecting with herself, Anderson makes another life-altering connection; she befriends Joan Erikson, the widow of noted psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. Erikson becomes a sort of mentor to Anderson who happily and gratefully absorbs the advice and life lessons shared by her new friend.

Anderson and her husband reunited on Memorial Day weekend and he decided to retire and live on the Cape with his wife. However, after a year of independent soul-searching, Anderson was a changed woman. She writes, "I've promised not to instruct or ask my husband what he is going to do with the rest of his life...I'll listen to his thoughts and ideas but hesitate before offering opinions...Falling into old patterns would only serve to diminish our spiritual growth."

A Year By the Sea was rejected 36 times and rewritten ten times; once it was perfect, the book met with great success. Anderson is also the author of A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom From an Unconventional Woman and An Unfinished Marriage. She resides on Cape Cod where she holds weekend retreats for women and continues to write about her life's journey. Her work has often been compared to that of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea.