Rebecca's Reviews > The Shore

The Shore by Sara      Taylor
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(Nearly 4.5) Gritty and virtuosic, this novel-in-13-stories imagines 250 years of history on a set of islands off the coast of Virginia. As a Maryland native, I think of Chincoteague and Assateague as vacation destinations, but Taylor definitely focuses on their dark side here: industrial-scale chicken farms, unwanted pregnancies, domestic violence, bootleg liquor, gang rape, murders and meth labs. There’s a core of narratives set in the 1980s–90s that could easily form a novel on their own, but these are interspersed with vignettes stretching from 1876 to 2143. Dirty realism thus shares space with historical fiction and dystopia, while first-person narration (about one-third) trades off with third-person (nearly two-thirds) and one instance of the second person (“Boys”).

My favorite of the stories were the nineteenth-century ones about Medora, a half-Native American healer. These have a faint flavor of Wide Sargasso Sea, while there are traces of Ron Rash and David Vann in the rest. Taylor has proven here that she can do it all: contemporary realism, period research, even post-apocalyptic. Each of those genres could have spawned an entire book, but when crammed together they seem a bit show-offy, or like Taylor couldn’t make up her mind what she wanted the book to be. I also thought the 1980s–90s chapters were repetitive, with young women getting knocked up by dubious boyfriends.

Is The Shore short stories or a novel? That’s a question I’m still asking myself. I’ve heard Taylor’s approach compared to David Mitchell’s in Cloud Atlas or The Bone Clocks, but I haven’t read either (anyone who has, feel free to let me know how Taylor measures up). The compromise position says it’s linked short stories (like Snow in May by Kseniya Melnik, Unforgettable by Paulette Alden, or Archangel by Andrea Barrett), with characters and/or their ancestors/descendants showing up in later chapters. I think in the end I would have preferred a clearer choice: either a chronological novel or a straight set of short stories.

Still, there’s no denying that Taylor can write, and I loved tracing the history of some dying communities that are more than just names to me. Every region needs a literary chronicler, and I reckon Taylor is it for the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia’s islands. This was certainly a deserving entry on the 2015 Baileys Prize longlist. Next time, though, I hope she’ll commit to one genre or style.
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Reading Progress

December 31, 2014 – Shelved
December 31, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
April 22, 2015 – Started Reading
April 24, 2015 –
April 24, 2015 – Shelved as: read-via-netgalley
April 24, 2015 – Shelved as: dirty-realism
April 28, 2015 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
April 28, 2015 – Shelved as: dystopian
April 28, 2015 – Finished Reading
May 1, 2015 – Shelved as: second-person
December 31, 2015 – Shelved as: best-of-2015
January 9, 2018 – Shelved as: linked-short-stories

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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Angela M 4 stars - sounds promising ! I have it but haven't read it yet .

Rebecca Very nearly 4.5. They're linked short stories, but I think I would have preferred either straight-up stories or a novel.

Angela M Looking forward to it . I don't usually read short stories unless they are linked so I suspect I may feel the same as you .

message 4: by William (new) - added it

William Kinda like Go Down, Moses by Faulkner.

Rebecca William wrote: "Kinda like Go Down, Moses by Faulkner."

One I was assigned in college but never got through ;)

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