The Shore by Sara Taylor

shoreThis book got a lot of love in 2015, so I expected to like it more than I did. Still, it’s a book that stays with you.

The Shore tells the story of a family across the years, and is set in the isolated rural area near Assateague and Chincoteague, Virginia (known for its wild horses described in the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry). It’s not that far from where I live, but in a lot of ways it is worlds away.

By concentrating on a family tree over a wide span of years, The Shore shows us the often devastating effects of abuse and poverty across generations. The book begins with Chloe, a young girl whose mother has disappeared and who is trying to protect her younger sister from her father’s abuse. Chloe is the book’s most compelling character.

I’ll admit, I thought this would be a lighter book than it was, and its darkness is what kept me from loving it. It’s realistic, to be sure, but at the same time, nearly every male in this book is a bully, a molester, or a rapist, from children to elderly men. I reached a point in this book where I found it overwhelming and I felt like I needed some balance.

It would be unfair to say there were no positive male characters in this book, but they were few and far between – and “positive” is relative in this book, like the character who watches a friend get raped and does nothing, but at least he doesn’t rape her himself.

Still, the story is powerful, as is the writing, and like I said this book has definitely stayed in my head and made me think.

This book hops around in time dramatically, going from the 1990’s to the 1800’s to the future in what seems to be a random order. The stories don’t always appear to be connected although if you’re patient, it gets there. There’s a family tree in the front of the book, but it was difficult to read on my Kindle. This is the rare occasion where a paper book would have been easier. I did find myself wondering if Taylor wasn’t trying to cover a bit too much ground in this book; a simpler family tree would have allowed more time to be spent on the most interesting characters.

The setting changes occasionally, which is realistic since no family is going to spend all their time in one place for centuries. But it keeps coming back to this little house on the Eastern shore. I like a book that has a strong setting, and this book does. Even though life is brutal, there’s a beauty to this place and the characters clearly feel connected to it.

So my feelings about this book are mixed, and I have to wonder if some of that is because right now, I really need to be reading lighter books. The brutality of this book felt relentless to me. There are women who are victims and women who fight back, but all of them are suffering in whatever relationship they are in (if you’re getting married sometime soon I would definitely not recommend this one). On the other hand, I can’t say that any of it felt unrealistic. Taylor deals with abuse and violence, but also relates it to real issues like meth addiction, generational poverty, and racism.

Note: this review counts towards The Readers’ Room Winter Scavenger Hunt.

  6 comments for “The Shore by Sara Taylor

  1. February 20, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    This is a totally brutal book. I was really surprised by that–I read it after it had gotten a lot of Baileys Prize related coverage, and none of the media stuff mentioned how devastating it is, especially the rape. I enjoyed reading it, but a warning would have been nice!

    • February 20, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      Yes, that’s how I felt exactly. I just wasn’t expecting it to be so dark. There are some rape scenes in books that I can’t forget, and this was one of them. It says something about how powerful the writing is though.

      • February 20, 2016 at 5:57 pm

        Oh my God, yes. I cried in public reading this—like, proper sobbed. I felt so ambushed by it.

  2. February 21, 2016 at 11:57 am

    It sounds like trying to keep up with the news, but it’s all death and destruction and you start to wonder if anything good ever happens. I don’t avoid difficult books like this, but I always ask myself if ALL the violence is needed, if it’s a proper interpretation of the world.

  3. February 22, 2016 at 6:37 am

    OMG, you summed up all the reasons why I’m hesitant about reading The Shore. It might be just a little too bleak for me. I think it will remain on the TBR, but down quite far, until the mood strikes.

  4. March 1, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    I think I was expecting something on the lighter side, too, and The Shore hit me like a ton of bricks. I never wrote up a review, because it seemed too hard. You did a good job with yours!

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