The debut novel from Alberta-based author Fran Kimmel revolves around a young girl’s turbulent and peripatetic life with her mother – a conflict that initially strikes a too-familiar chord. But the story’s twists and turns gradually reveal the unusual, dark circumstances behind the family’s plight, leading to a satisfying conclusion.
The Shore Girl begins with a section told from the perspective of toddler Rebee Shore. Her young mother, Elizabeth (a.k.a. Harmony), returns to their motel room one night having wrecked the front of their van, and they hastily flee. While the book’s opening events are dramatic, Rebee’s limited point of view makes for a difficult entry point. This is remedied in subsequent sections told from the alternating perspectives of Aunt Vic; Miss Bel, a teacher; and Jake and Joey, who encounter Rebee and her mother at different points on the road.
Some of Kimmel’s strongest characters are her male narrators, who render the novel’s events in striking language and viewpoints. Jake, for instance, encounters Rebee and Harmony while coping with his brother’s disappearance. His function as a possible father figure to Rebee is touching, adding warmth to a novel replete with harsh circumstances. Later on, Joey, a teenage foster child who becomes Rebee’s neighbour, makes a poignant parallel to “the Shore girl,” now living alone in her late grandfather’s house. Joey’s combined longing for and resentment of his own mother echoes Rebee’s.
The warped circumstances that cause Harmony to perpetually flee, dragging Rebee along with her and intermittently abandoning her, ultimately ring true, but Harmony is more believable and compelling in her actions than her dialogue. Her nonchalance in handing 11-year-old Rebee a beer when Jake visits their campsite, for instance, illustrates the havoc of the young girl’s upbringing in a way that is both raw and heartbreaking.
At its conclusion, The Shore Girl comes full circle, shedding much-needed light on its murky beginning in an unexpected but fulfilling way. Kimmel’s debut will appeal to those who are drawn to dark, gritty family dramas, rife with vulnerable characters in turmoil.