Saturday, November 2, 2013

Shorecliff - Ursula DeYoung

Honestly, I didn't really enjoy this much.  I've this out from the library for what seems like forever, because I just couldn't get into it.  It has something to do with the plot, something to do with the characters, and something to do with the writing style, which all combines to just make you go "bleh."

First, there are the characters.  The narrator, Richard Killing II, is a grown man talking about a summer he spent at his family's house in Maine, Shorecliff, with his extensive network of aunts, uncles, and cousins.  This extensive network is not good, because it means you have to keep up with upwards of twenty characters at any given time, and many of them are only distinguishable from each other by one particular trait.  For example, Isabelle is the gangly, awkward one, and Fisher is the one who likes birds, and Francesca is the beautiful one.  Lengthy physical descriptions of these characters are dumped in your lap during the first chapter, not in a very artful way, and then never mentioned again.  Their personalities and manners of speaking aren't very different from each other at all, and they tend to blur together and leave you wondering who exactly is doing what.  Also, Richard in the story is supposed to be 13 years old; he acts more like he's 8.  This might be because the book is set in 1928, but honestly there isn't much made of this setting and it's very easy to forget that the story doesn't take place in modern times, which leaves things a little squishy in your brain--and not in a good way.

Then there's the plot.  In the first chapter, one of the aunts--who are also apparently supposed to be indistinguishable from each other, for the most part--proclaims that Shorecliff is "ripe for incest."  This seems to be setting up the plot for the rest of the book, but really it isn't.  The plot is more along the lines of no plot at all; it's just a bunch of people rambling about in Maine during the summer and having issues with each other.  Sure, a couple of the cousins have things for each other or pretend to have things for each other, but none of it actually goes anywhere, and it seems like a huge potential conflict was left behind.  Narrator-Richard keeps talking about the "catastrophe" of the summer and DeYoung attempts to make it seem like all of the summer's events led up to that moment, but in reality it doesn't seem like they did.  The "catastrophe" was not a climax of events--it could have just as easily happened in the beginning of the book as the end, which doesn't make it seem very climatic at all.  The "mystery" of the loss of the family fortune also isn't very stunning, nor is Uncle Kurt, who's supposed to be a "mysterious" character.

The writing style is bland; there's a lot of telling and not a heck of a lot of showing, which is exasperating, and a ton of info-dumping that could have been done in a much more artful way.  Additionally, there's a ton of exposition at the end of the book, telling where each ended up and what they did for pretty much the rest of their lives.  That was boring, and for the most part unnecessary, because I didn't particularly care about these characters.  None of them were very lovable, and DeYoung didn't go out of her way to make me root for any of them.  They were just there, and I didn't care what happened to them in more than a, "Oh, that's vaguely interesting but I would have been just as happy not knowing" sort of way.

Overall, a pretty dull book that didn't get any better as it went on.

1.5 stars out of 5.

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