The Shore Girl is chock full of idiosyncrasies. That is quite fitting for an author who calls her work history eclectic, indicating that she has been a “Boys and Girls Club director, youth worker, career counsellor . . . [and even] guarded troubled kids in hotel rooms when they had no place to go.”1 Yes, all of Fran Kimmel’s characters suddenly make way more sense to me when reading about the winding road her life has taken.
This piecemeal tale of a young girl’s progression to adulthood is nothing if not mesmerising… which I mean both in a positive and negative way (I’ll come back to that). Part of the tale’s interest is in the narration style which is both first person and varied, glancing in on the life of Rebee Shore from various perspectives and points in time.
Curiously, the reader is placed in Rebee’s point of view the least despite her being the obvious main character. In some ways this removes power from her – she is the focus of most of the storyline while simultaneously being unable, unwilling, or otherwise indifferent to guide the narrative of her life. I see this as a deliberate choice by Kimmel to give the ‘outside looking in’ perspective, partially because this is an almost universal experience. Aunt Vic, Miss Bel, and Jake give the adult angle coupled with their own peculiarities. They all imagine themselves as Rebee’s guardian while somehow placating her mother but none are successful in this fantasy. They too are powerless throughout the novel to change the path of the Shore Girls but all make some meaningful impact on Rebee.
The oddities that each character carries around with them are bits and pieces of their past brought out in some very cringe-worthy ways. Aunt Vic’s distrust of men, Miss Bel’s obsession with keeping clean, Jake’s resistance to unforeseen change, Joey’s anxious vomiting, Elizabeth’s uncontrollable urge to move, and even Rebee’s nail collection. While some of these do seem extreme and foreign beyond all belief, there is truth in the minutia. How many of us (humans that is) feel that some part of them is too ‘abnormal’ to speak about? Obviously not all readers will have a mallet finger or suffer from cyclic vomiting syndrome but perhaps they have psoriasis or a speech disorder. The real key to this story is how any reader can see a little of themselves in one of the characters.
The ending, however, is a little less believable to me. We’re supposed to believe that a sixteen year old was given a house in the middle of some random rural town and was permitted to live there? Not only that, she unearths the sordid past of her family (most of which occurred in that very same house) and somehow ends the novel with a rom-com-esque imagining of her birthday. Of course, her friend turned puppy love partner will be there despite being taken away by his mother not that long ago. Her Aunt Vic will call to share complaints about work and naturally, the pseudo father figure of Jake will call and they will exchange comfortable I love yous… Wait what? I mean, I know he gave her a doll house and she obsessed over her genealogy after they left that campsite but she could count how many times she met him on one hand!
Perhaps this is an indication of her over attachment to possible loving caregivers. It could also be that she needs this kind of buoyant bond to cope with the tragedy of her family’s past. OR, even more likely, it could just be my own unwillingness to give in to the possible happy ending . . . and really, what does that say about me?