This is a Review: The Shore, by Sara TaylorMay 16, 2015
The first thing you need to know about The Shore is that the setting is one of the most important characters in the story. This is no small feat, as throughout its 300+ pages, we meet more than two dozen others, nearly all of them loosely connected to one of two families that have called this collection of islands off the coast of Virginia home since (at least) the early nineteenth century.
The reader watches these families quite literally come alive over a series of stories spanning more than two centuries. Almost every vignette has a different narrator, and one of the most enjoyable parts of the book was trying to puzzle out how all of these people fit together. (Physical ARCs and the finished product should be coming with family trees, but my copy didn't have one. I actually think I prefer it this way, as it allowed the story to unfold more naturally.) The Shore likewise undergoes a metamorphosis from a tourist-filled beach destination to a dilapidated ghost town to... something else entirely.
While it has its moments of charm, this is by no means a light book. Taylor makes no bones about sprinkling her novel liberally with domestic, sexual and child abuse, addiction of various kinds, an extended gang rape and a couple of gruesome murders. I knew this book would be dark going in, but I would have appreciated someone tipping me off about some of the more graphic scenes. Consider this the warning I didn't get!
While that list sounds gratuitous, it didn't feel that way while reading. The Shore is the definition of a rural wasteland; its residents farm and fish and work at the chicken plants that spew what smells like "chicken soup, and a whole lot like dog food, with the inside of a molding coop mixed in" (Loc 258). Not until the very end—a vignette set 150 years in the future—do we get any real sense of hope for what comes next. I'm reminded of another collection of stories I read, The Uncanny Valley by Gregory Miller; one of the characters said that the valley "has a way of keeping its own where they are." The Shore likewise holds its own in a clenched fist, and it's only natural that they would turn against each other (and themselves) to survive.
And yet, like most good Southern folk, many of the Shore's children find a sense of pride in where they come from:
"Going home, at the end of a day of shopping or visiting or reporting to the draft, I used to imagine I was King Arthur going to Avalon, and none of the city mess could follow me. It wasn't just the trip away in reverse. The stink of the city faded and that ribbon of life resolved magically out of the haze on the water. It was all soft and green, and no one could tell me the Shore wasn't the most beautiful place on the face of God's earth." - Loc. 2120-2126, The ShoreIf you're looking for a generation-spanning story that oozes Southern atmosphere—and don't mind a little bit of magical realism and a whole lot of bleakness thrown in for good measure—The Shore is your book.
The Shore will be available for purchase on May 26.
Obligatory disclaimer goes here: I received The Shore from NetGalley for review consideration. Thanks so much to Hogarth of Crown Publishing Group for giving me the chance to read it!
I know a few of you have read The Shore—let's talk about it. And look out for next month's chat over at The Socratic Salon!