Publisher: Hogarth. May 26, 2015
Genre: Literary fiction
First Line: When news of the murder breaks I'm in Matthew's buying chicken necks so my little sister Renee and I can go crabbing.
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We are one of three islands, off the coast of Virginia and just south of Maryland, trailing out into the Atlantic Ocean like someone's dripped paint.
The first chapter of this book absolutely blew me away and the rest of the book did not disappoint. If you're at all interested in dark, gritty Southern Gothic literature, or perhaps think you could be but have been put off by how male-dominated those stories tend to be, grab this immediately. And if you want a little dose of magical realism, too, you're in the right place. I waited a couple weeks to read this after acquiring it, and I regret it.
The Shore is an interesting book, in that each chapter focuses on a different character (though sometimes narrators recur) and each chapter jumps to a different year, sometimes up to 100 years in difference. But the common thread is that they all focus on families, and particularly the tough and fascinating women, who inhabit a group of islands off the shore of Virginia. And boy does Sara Taylor know how to evoke a sense of place. The marshland these families have populated for years is both desolate and enchanting. Taylor's writing is absolutely stunning and I loved just soaking in how real and rich her descriptions were.
Behind her, the marsh stretches silver and gray and bright lime green, veined with creeks the reflect the blue of the sky, out to the gold smudge of barrier islands and white smudge of breakers at the horizon.
Taylor is also extraordinary at writing characters. Each one was intriguing and different. Sometimes at the beginning of a story, you had no idea who you were watching, but you could begin to recognize people from earlier just based on how they felt. One character that was vaguely mentioned in one story could be the main character of the next one. It was a lot of fun taking notes and trying to keep track of how all these people were related, because they all were in some way, and it added a layer of depth and interaction that many books don't achieve.
It's worth noting that this book is really intense. Beautiful, but intense, and it goes to very dark places. Anything that you imagine might happen in a rural, isolated, run-down set of island towns does. There's violence, crime, drugs, domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, and rape. I think all of it was important to read and it doesn't feel gratuitous, but it is worth mentioning.
I loved this book. Well, I loved all but the last chapter of this book, which felt unnecessary. But I'm fully behind every other chapter. Even if you think you don't need to read this book, you do. I'm beyond excited to see what Sara Taylor does in the future.
She'd reached out her hands, like he'd shown her, and felt the breeze between her fingers like long strands of dried grass, only this time she felt it in her mind, too, as if her head was an empty room with all the windows open and the breeze was wandering through it. She'd grabbed hold and twisted, and the breeze twirled in on itself, picking up the cut grass on the road, spinning a confused chicken around a few times, then straightening back out.
Outlandishness Rating: 8/10
Ok, I didn't really touch on much of the magical realism, but it is there and it is SO magical. I love how it's just kind of integrated without trying to explain it too much. Also, when I said there can be differences of 100 years between chapters? It definitely goes into the future a couple times. Those stories show a grimmer future. A little bit literary apocalyptic, akin to Station Eleven or Cloud Atlas. It's so good. Except for the last chapter, but we really don't have to talk about that.