Review: “The Shore Girl” by Fran Kimmel, NeWest Press

Fran Kimmel’s new novel, “The Shore Girl”

I’ve had my head down, raising my kids, for a long time.  It meant that, when my publisher asked if I knew any well-known writers who could provide “blurbs” (that’s fancy-shmancy publisher talk for short reviews) to put on the cover of my book, I had to confess I didn’t know anyone.

It was a revelation for me.  The silly mystique of writers toiling away in thoughtful silence and social isolation really is a sham.  People who hide by themselves have nothing to write about – except maybe science fiction.  I’ve done all my writing in crowded, noisy houses.  The only thing I’ve been isolated from was other people doing the same thing.  And the time had come to find them.  My publisher was able to take care of the book blurb herself but I still needed to lift my head out of my laundry pile and meet my colleagues.

I didn’t expect it to be easy.  Canada is huge and sparsely populated and its artistic communities are densest in urban areas.  What were the odds there would be another literary fiction novelist living in my obscure little town?

Apparently, they were amazingly good.

After about two minutes on the Internet, I discovered Fran Kimmel.  She’s the author of The Shore Girl, a novel released in Sept 2012 by NeWest Press.  And she’s also my neighbour.  We had “coffee” at our local library’s café where she signed my brand new copy of The Shore Girl.  I liked Fran right away.  She’s closer to my mom’s age than to mine but, thanks in part to my big sister complex, I felt comfortable and happy to be with her.  She was gracious and generous with her encouragement and advice.  I came away scolding myself for not finding her sooner.

There was just one lingering worry for me.  I hadn’t yet finished Fran’s book.  By page eighty-eight, I liked it.  But would I keep liking it all the way to the end?  Not knowing any writers personally meant I could always say whatever I wanted when I finished a book without any fear that the old authors from pre-revolutionary Russia, or wherever, would get their feelings hurt.  What would it mean for our new friendship if I got to the end and realized I didn’t like it?

I read Fran’s book anyway.  I trusted her.  I trusted her publisher.  I read.  And I thoroughly enjoyed The Shore Girl.

It’s told in polyphony, through the voices of half a dozen different first person narrators.  They vary in age and gender but they all have two things in common: a girl named Rebee and the question of whether surrendering power to other people by loving them is worth the burden it brings.

I won’t risk trying to write a detailed plot summary.  I’m afraid I’d botch it and make the book with its unstable mothers, homelessness, and all that alcohol sound like an old after-school television special bemoaning the effects of dysfunctional families on developing children.  That’s not what this is.   Somehow, Fran has taken a set of circumstances that are usually treated in sentimental, tiresome terms and knocked the cloying clichés off them.  The clarity of the details of everyday life – the fingernail clippings and the insides of refrigerators – along with the stoic resignation with which the characters negotiate their difficult landscapes allow a story that could have been mired in gratuitous melancholy to become a story told with sincerity, warmth, wisdom, and even hope.

“It’s not a happy story,” Fran warned me.  She’s right.  But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t leave me feeling hopeful about the resilient, resourceful people who can grow out of tumultuous home environments.  Imperfect, incomplete love is still love.  And maybe — miraculously — it’s enough.

It was with perfect sincerity that I emailed Fran the morning I finished The Shore Girl and congratulated her for writing a very fine novel.  Just one more thing remains unsettled between us: Fran has yet to read my still unreleased novel.  Now that’s scary.

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