Published by Hogarth
Publication date: May 26th 2015
The Shore by Sara Taylor may qualify as one of the most unusually formatted books I’ve read in a long time. Take a family tree composed of over fifty members, stretching from the 1850s to 2143. Close your eyes, throw a dart at the tree and wherever it land–that’s a chapter. So, even though Medora Slater is the matriarch who gets this clan started, she doesn’t make an appearance until chapter four. Instead, in what is one of the most explosive first chapters I’ve ever read, the novel opens in 1995 with thirteen-year-old Chloe informing her little sister about a neighbor’s murder. From there the chapters in The Shore clatter, clang, jangle and ping like the silver ball bashing around inside a pinball machine. Each turn of the page leads to another careening dash downhill in a family that seems born for misery.
The stories of The Shore are largely those of the family’s women and even when they are strong and mystical, imbued with the power to heal or bring rain, more often than not they are also abused and mistreated. Taylor writes their tales with a flat affect that sometimes feels brusque and unpleasant but sadly realistic. As one bruised wife reflects about another
Even so, you know they’ll see and wonder what you said, what you did, how you failed to keep it together this time.
The women are the heart of The Shore, but Taylor goes far beyond them in the hundreds of years she explores. By the novel’s end in 2143 each generation’s actions have rippled out, impacting both humans and nature, with grim results.
Taylor’s formatting choice in The Shore is a double–edged sword. Distilling all that time into chapters is exhilarating in how fast it moves, but aggravating in its sense of disorientation. The randomness of the timeline combined with the number of characters, results in a feeling of disconnection. The drawing of the family tree at the beginning of the book is critical but using it to figure out who’s who completely stops the novel’s flow. While this was somewhat problematic for me, I still found the story Taylor was telling to be one I’m very glad I read.