Even the people you can depend on, you can’t depend on to never die.
I bought this book last year after reading Lady Fancifull review. It has been in in my TBR for a while and its cover was tempting me more and more finally few weeks ago I gave in and it was a fantastic and very rewarding read.
It is not a pleasant book, but once you start reading it it is difficult to put away. It is formed of short stories all taking place in the Shore – a group of islands just off the coast of Virginia. The stories jump back and forth in time from late 19th century to year 2143, telling us about people inhabiting the Shore, gradually we discover connections between characters in each story, as their fates intertwine, family connections are discovered and past is never far away.
For me this book played on three levels, as a story, as we get to know more about characters more and more secrets are revealed that help us understand them; as description of place, of how much environment affects people; and as a description of a small and quite isolated society throughout the decades, showing that some things never change.
It is about several families living on the Shore, we discover their history gradually through stories of single characters presented in non-chronological order. This helps to take a step back and look at everything in a wider perspective, the plot is interesting but it is only an excuse to tackle bigger issues, to talk about a place and community living in it.
The Shore is not a friendly place, it feels almost claustrophobic at times, and yet people born there seem to be tied to this place, either they stay their entire life, or they leave but at some point are drawn back. The islands form a natural barrier between Atlantic Ocean and Virginia, often being hit by storms, with locally specific wildlife and even wild ponies. Sometimes it seems almost idyllic, sometimes endlessly bleak, Taylor treats the Shore like one of the characters, its inhabitants accept it or fight it, but are never indifferent to it. The Shore seems to change little throughout decades, time passes differently here.
The most interesting aspect of the book was how it showed the community living on the Shore throughout time. The book is brutal at times, few times I flinched at its cruelty. People living on the Shore are generally poor and this makes them harder. Violence is everywhere, mainly violence of men towards women, it seems that men in this book feel like they fought with life and lost so they take it out on the closest physically weaker person, which often happens to be a woman. Violence is so wide-spread that hardly anyone reacts to it anymore, it is both physical and psychological. Some of the female characters fight back, some leave and some give up, but all of them are marked by the violence. What I found fascinating is how little this changes over time, it doesn’t matter if the story is based in 19th century or at the end of 20th the violence the attitudes and behaviors are very similar, almost like the violence originates from the place itself, not from specific people. Taylor’s language is very clear, almost clinical, making it all the more cutting, there is nothing to make things prettier than they are, chicken factory stinks, killing is just that, not one unnecessary word.
The book is not all about violence and suffering, it has more tender moments and there always seem to be a tiny speck of hope left, there’s always future, even if it’s very rooted in the past, there is slight possibility of change and redemption.
I look up at the moon for a moment, huge with balancing on the horizon, and I remember sitting on the upstairs porch at night when I was younger, watching the reflection on the marsh. The stars are smeared across the sky, not the pretty scatter that most people imagine, but a crush of millions in the beautiful, pure darkness. I’d forgotten how big the sky is out here, how black it gets at night, how far it feels from the rest of the world. My feet start walking, past my car,
What matters is that I have the stars, the marsh, the smudge of the barrier islands again, that I can trace the Milky Way, that my feet remember the shape of this land. That for right now they’re all mine.
Have you read it? What did you think?
Do you think small communities really change so little over time?
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska