November 22, 2015

Book 55: The Shore

The Shore
Sara Taylor

The first thing to note about this book is its structure; though advertised as a novel, The Shore is a collection of short stories that follow the lives of several generations (particularly women) of a family living on the Virginia Barrier Islands. The stories do link up nicely, even if readers must frequently refer to the family tree that Taylor provides at the front of the book, and certain themes weave their way throughout the collection. The interconnectedness is deliberate and easy to spot, yet feels natural as secondary characters in one story come to the fore in another. Most crucial is the legend of matriarch Medora, whose story is told directly but becomes (understandably) distorted over the generations, in a nice and relatively subtle metafictional nod to the power of story and the peculiarities of family legends. Each story feels complete while connecting to the greater whole, though one story- that of someone who left the islands- seems to be missing, leaving a gap in the otherwise tight mosaic. Other stories, particularly the final quartet, diverge slightly from the previous formula, following characters who are not Medora's direct descendants and only given a more direct connection to the remainder at the end of the book. Individual stories work well in isolation and their variation showcases Taylor's array of skills as she utilizes different narrative voices, tenses, and moods, making the characters come alive and distinguishing them individually and temporally. These stories truly feel like they are taking place in their own times, even if Taylor stumbles a bit in her attempt to include non sequitur plague fiction; this particular effort feels a bit forced and introduces some thematic elements that Taylor fails to exploit usefully. Despite this and some other minor stumbles, The Shore is an intriguing and engrossing portrait of a place, told through the various lenses of a single family and the diverse experiences they have, from poverty to profit and everywhere in between.

Grade: A-

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