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The Shore


The Shore

THE SHORE, Katie Runde’s debut novel, is an atmospheric, expansive look into the inner lives of the Dunne family as they grapple with sickness, caregiving, grief and their lives as permanent residents of a tourist dream spot.

Last summer, Brian was fine: a proud and competent local businessman, an uplifting and goofy father to Liz and Evy, and a passionate husband to Margot. This summer, he oscillates between Toddler, Zombie, Jerk and Rain Man, a destructive and volatile tumor always at the helm of his fractured and disappearing brain. Brian’s diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme has begun the countdown to his death, an already horrifying and painful thought, which makes his loved ones want to hold him near and reminisce while they still can.

"In the end, THE SHORE is not read but breathed, as life-affirming, natural and beautifully flawed as the world and emotions it embodies."

The flip side of this diagnosis is that it has turned Brian into a man they hardly recognize. He calls them vicious, cruel names, fights about wearing pants or scaring people at supermarkets, and requires constant supervision and babysitting. This dichotomy means that every decision his wife and daughters make is based on the one that came before it and often can upend any expectations they had about the day, week, month or the rest of Brian’s time with them. Through alternating perspectives, Runde dives deep into each woman’s head to explore the life-altering effects of their half-formed and constantly evolving grief, as well as their attempts to maintain a sense of self and hope for the future.

First we have Margot, who has been forced to run her and Brian’s home property management and rental company alone for the first time ever. This means posting attractive, alluring ads on Airbnb, cleaning every property before and after it is occupied, maintaining each property, running ads and promotions, and making sure that the business she and her husband built continues to support their daughters. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Margot, too, has been victimized and changed by Brian’s tumor, and although she often catches her stress manifesting as rage and discontent at her daughters, she feels powerless to stop the changes that have overcome her. She finds solace in wine, a Facebook group for wives of glioblastoma patients where she can say everything she feels, and a private longing to pack it all up, sell her properties, and move the girls far away to a place where Brian’s memory cannot haunt them.

Liz and Evy have taken alternate yet complementary approaches to the sudden upheaval of their family. Liz, the older daughter, is enamored with a boy who works at the same beachside rental company and brings her pizza and the occasional spiked beverage at the end of her shift. She has become adept at compartmentalizing her grief and is pursuing, in a nearly healthy fashion, love and teenage normalcy whenever she is not with her family.

Evy, meanwhile, has infiltrated her mother’s Facebook group by posing as another wife dealing with the same issues. The insight this allows into Evy’s real thoughts --- not her unflappable facade or seemingly random bouts of petty rage --- has given just as much as it has taken. While it has offered an avenue for understanding and potentially connecting with the mother she misses, it also has exposed the unintentional duplicity of Evy’s emotions and the ways that Brian’s illness has changed the family, potentially permanently.

Though their responses are different, Liz and Evy provide valuable support to one another, even as their relationships with both parents transform and mutate.

As Margot and her daughters shape and mold their lives around Brian’s illness and the ticking clock it has presented, they face continuous, daily goodbyes to normalcy: the last time they had a normal dinner as a family, the last time Brian offered clear, helpful advice, the last time they woke up and had a real husband and father. They also learn a great deal about grace and compassion in caregiving, becoming wry, studied observers of their own hearts and their abilities to budget their time, grief and power to move on.

At face value, Margot, Liz and Evy are simple, accessible characters who are easy to relate to and root for. However, they become transcendent for the ways they learn to exist within the contradictions and compartmentalizations of their survival techniques, forever aligning and realigning themselves to new normals. Runde’s portrayal of the pain of living grief, the horror at watching a person you love change before your eyes, and the daily charting of each loss and win is not only heartbreaking but masterly. Although little truly changes in her characters’ day-to-day lives, she allows them space to breathe and pushes their boundaries by delving deep into the darkest corners of their hurts, resentments and fears.

In the end, THE SHORE is not read but breathed, as life-affirming, natural and beautifully flawed as the world and emotions it embodies. Runde is a powerful, masterfully restrained writer, a keen interpreter of the human psyche, and a perfect comp for readers who enjoy --- and have had their hearts broken and repaired by --- Mary Beth Keane, Cara Wall and Ann Napolitano.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 27, 2022

The Shore
by Katie Runde

  • Publication Date: May 30, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1982180188
  • ISBN-13: 9781982180188