Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Robert Dunbar
Published by Leisure Books
Ever feel like you’ve walked into the middle of a conversation and have no hope of catching up? Like whatever the others are talking about, they’ve already explained and they can’t be bothered with going back to let you follow along? Or how about walking in two thirds of the way through an insanely complicated movie only to find out that the last third makes no sense? That’s how you’ll feel after reading Robert Dunbar’s The Shore.
The story revolves around a mysterious man who is chasing an even more mysterious boy, who has a hapless (yet mysterious) girl tied to a chair in an abandoned apartment. They wind up in a coastal town that is dying, and dark brooding chaos ensues. Add to the mix an old widow on a hill who seems to serve no purpose, an escaped lunatic that doesn’t really fit into the story, a small-town policewoman (more on her in a moment), and a hurricane, and you have pretty much the whole story.
The biggest problem this book has is a distinct lack of cohesion. There doesn’t seem to be anything that ties the chapters, or even paragraphs in some cases, together. The readers go a full twenty or so pages before any of the characters are even named, so what we are left with are scattered thoughts from characters who ramble nonsensically about monsters and having to kill one another. Granted, such scattered thoughts work well to set up tension in the first scene, where the man has almost caught the boy on the beach, but the rest of the novel suffers from having the same device used as structure.
Another issue with the novel, and a pet peeve of mine, is characters that don’t behave like real people. Take for example, the female cop. First, she goes in to question a suspicious man, who then turns the interrogation around and questions her. She gets nothing from him, but becomes more suspicious. Then, upon finding the man staggering out of an alley, bloody, she takes him home, where she proceeds to tell him that he’s the most beautiful man she’s ever seen. While he refuses to tell her anything and gives her every reason to believe he’s a raving psychotic and dangerous to her physical well-being, she reveals that she’s in love with him. I’m sorry, but the simpering female routine got old a long time ago, and I personally prefer my female characters with more than two modes, simpering and clueless. Several of the characters in this novel are similarly one-dimensional, and it gets annoying really fast.
Then, of course, there’s the plot, which revolves around…something…and people who are bad because they…are something…It’s never really explained why these people are bad. Sure, there are overtones of painfully unstated child abuse (both sexual and emotional), but even that is apparently secondary to the real reason they’re being chased, which is never fully explained. Add in a hurricane that is over in two pages and seems just thrown in for the hell of it, and you have a big confusing mess on your hands.
One place where Dunbar does succeed, however, is in his crafting of the setting and mood. He creates from page one a town on the edge of ruin, and throughout the story, the reader gets to see it rot from the inside. The bleak outlook of the characters is echoed by the chilly air and rapidly diminishing population of the town, until, at last, it is wiped clean by the hurricane.
In all fairness, The Shores is the sequel to The Pines, which was based on the Jersey Devil legend, so some of the pretext to this book may have been discussed earlier, but there is so much information left out that this book feels like it alienates new readers. Going back and reading The Pines will reveal quite a bit, but as a stand-alone book, this one doesn’t quite work.
2 1/2 out of 5
Discuss The Shore in our forums!