Sarah’s Snippets Book Review: The Shore by Sara Taylor

May 19, 2015 Southern Fiction 30

Fiction – SouthernThe Shore, Sara Taylor
Release Date: May 26, 2015
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…but, know what you’re getting into and take notes!
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: eGalley provided by the publisher via Netgalley


While I was initially frustrated by the book’s structure and my own misguided expectations, The Shore ended up being a daring story of life in a unique and difficult place that I suspect will stick with me for a long time. 

Plot Summary

“A series of interconnecting narratives” (Amazon) about life at different points in time on the Eastern Shore of Virginia (specifically Parksley Island), a beautiful, unique, remote, desperate, and mostly poverty-stricken place.

A Note on Structure

I went into The Shore pretty blind (which I normally like doing), but it came back to bite me here. I was expecting a novel (it says that on the cover!), but this book reads much more like short stories with some recurring characters (which I would have known had I paid closer attention to the “official” blurb). To save yourself some pain, take lots of notes about the characters as soon as you start reading…it’s hard to keep track of everyone and their relationships to each other (though, I did hear the final version contains a family tree). A very minor character in one chapter might show up as the main character in a subsequent chapter or vice versa.

This is a book that takes commitment and some work to appreciate. While I was initially frustrated with the convoluted structure, I was able to appreciate its intricacy once I banished my expectation of a novel and settled into the book’s rhythm.

Major Themes

Poverty, drug abuse, domestic abuse, women taking matters into their own hands, life on the water, communities in decline

What I Liked

  • Taylor hits you over the head with the first chapter. It firmly establishes a sense of place (the first paragraph mentions chicken necks and crabbing…very Eastern Shore!) and left me with my mouthing hanging open.
  • The first chapter also lets you know that Taylor is willing to go there. And, go there she does for the entire book…over and over, without fear. 
  • The juxtaposition of the beauty of the islands (Parksley Island has two neighboring and more renowned cousins: Chincoteague and Assateague, of the wild ponies fame) with the ugliness of some corners of life there reminded me of Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides.
  • As soon as I finished the book, I wanted to re-read it (but, I haven’t yet). There really is a breathtaking story here and I want a shot at it without the distraction of having to untangle the structure.

What I Didn’t Like

  • The chapters/”narratives” jump around in time quite a bit. This randomness of time periods bothered me and I wish there had been more of a pattern.
  • Taylor had a tendency to not reveal anything about the narrator of each chapter for quite a while, often leaving me asking “who the hell is this?” 
  • I absolutely hated the final chapter. It seemed out of place and disconnected from the rest of the book. And, the second to last chapter provided such a satisfying ending that I wanted and expected it to end there.

A Defining Quote

I hate this place and I love this place and I don’t know if I want to go as far away as possible or never leave.

Fascinating Fact

My father-in-law grew up in a small town on the Eastern Shore of Virgina, about 40 miles South of Parksley Island (where much of The Shore takes place). We still go to visit every summer (and my husband and I got married there!), so the setting of this novel touched a personal chord for me.

Good for People Who Like…

Southern fiction (particularly Southern Gothic), short stories, dark topics, books that make you think, stories about seaside living

Other Books You May Like

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

30 Responses to “Sarah’s Snippets Book Review: The Shore by Sara Taylor”

  1. Shannon @ River City Reading

    I knew the last chapter would be one people loved/hated (I think it was what put the nail in the coffin for it being a book we had to discuss in The Socratic Salon), but I LOVED it once I read it through a second time. I actually read it again yesterday when April and I were trying to piece together a few things and I think we may have – we’ll see! But yeah, I think it’s smart to know what you’re getting into and, even though I really liked puzzling things out, I think it definitely takes someone who wants to do that to enjoy this.

    • admin

      I re-read the first one once I was about 4 chapters in. Maybe I’ll re-read the last chapter. I must confess I started skimming it after a bit. But, I don’t know, I don’t really see myself loving it. I just remember thinking WTF when I read it the first time. But, maybe a re-read will at least make some more sense out of it.

  2. Kay

    Well, the reference to Pat Conroy kind of had me. Not that I expect this will be like a Conroy book, but mostly I love them and kind of hate them. Various reasons. If I pick this one up, I’ll be prepared.

  3. Tara @ Running 'N' Reading

    The subject matter sounds fascinating, but it may be a little more work than I’m interested in right now – ha! I love that you are familiar with the area in which the book is set; that is always so fun, to me. I put this on my TBR, Sarah; thanks so much for the info before I start!

    • admin

      Ha – It’s definitely work, but is a pretty amazing book, too! I don’t mind the work, but I think I needed to be better prepared for it.

  4. KatieMcD @ Bookish Tendencies

    SO… I just finished this yesterday. I’m still unsure what to think about the last chapter. It just seems so out of place, and yet… I’m working through it, and may have to do as Shannon says above – re-read it. Excellent review.

    • admin

      I think I need to re-read it too (but, then a part of me wonders why I should have to, you know??). I confess, I was so turned off by it that I ended up skimming most of the end of it 🙂

  5. Margot @ Joyfully Retired

    I don’t know if this is for me. On the one hand I love short stories and Prince of Tides (all that conflict!). On the other hand, you seem to have reservations. I think I’ll try reading the first chapter and make up my mind from there. Well, maybe a little into the second chapter . . .

    • admin

      The first chapter will probably get you! I loved it. I think a lot of my reservations might have disappeared had I gone into it with the right mindset.

  6. Allison @ The Book Wheel

    I just got my copy of this book in the mail yesterday and haven’t started it yet (I’m still reading Americanah) but I happy for the heads up because I didn’t know that was how the story was structured, either. I’ll let you know what I think 🙂

    • admin

      Looking forward to hearing what you think! I wish I’d had the heads-up 🙂

  7. Diane

    Loved your rebiew (and format) Sarah — this was challenging but worth it.

  8. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    I really like the structure of your review! I especially like the themes, quote, fun facts, and good for people who sections. I’ve definitely had similar experiences where I haven’t paid enough attention to a description or when it’s been a bad description. It’s much less likely I’ll enjoy a book if it’s not what I expect, because then I’ll read it when I’m really in the mood for something else.

    • admin

      Thanks so much! I actually usually like going in blind, but not in this case! I would have liked to have known to start taking notes from the beginning and to pay attention to even minor characters in early chapters.

  9. Rory

    I can’t wait to read this book. Between your review and Shannon’s review, the anticipation is practically crushing. I preordered it, which is a first for me.

  10. susan

    I can see where this book would have a definite personal chord with you: being married near there and all. I’m sure you could sense if it rang true or not for the area. Interesting to read a book, close to home for you

    • admin

      She got it right…especially the dichotomy between the extreme poverty and pockets of wealth.

    • admin

      I just re-read it earlier this year (I originally read it in high school)….Conroy is such a genius at waterside living!

  11. Amanda

    I don’t think I hated the last chapter- but I definitely could have ended with the second to last as well. It felt so appropriate to just leave the island there!

    • admin

      That’s how I felt – the second to last was so fitting! I keep telling myself I’ll re-read the last chapter to see if I missed something, but I haven’t done it yet.

    • admin

      I know…I keep feeling this pressure that there’s something I’m just not getting and, once I “get” that, it’ll make me like it. But, I don’t know. I did not like it. I probably should try it a second time, but I keep picking up other things instead 🙂

      And – no problem!

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