Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Ursula DeYoung

Little, Brown, 2013

Events of the summer spent with numerous relatives in a big house on the Maine shore in 1928 are recalled by lawyer Richard Killing, who on that summer was only 13.

Together with his mother Caroline Richard travels from New York to Shorecliff, where for the first time all the relatives of the mother of the boy should be gathered. Richard's father, a successful lawyer, stays in the city, and boy is glad. Hatfield Sr. is a hard man, loving discipline and order, and he never punished his son by beatings, but everyone is afraid of him.

In Shorecliff first time in a long time the whole family are in full: a few Caroline’s sisters and their husbands, her brother Kurt, as well as numerous Richard’s cousins. He is the youngest in the company, the oldest among children is the mysterious Francesca, 21. Of all the brothers and sisters, Richard is most familiar with Pamela, who is older than the boy by only six months. He rarely had seen the rest of the extended family and knows them not well enough.

Large family is good, but when a large family gathers together, it is not very good. Shorecliff successfully convinces us of this. This novel plays with semitones, and the author's voice never rises louder than a whisper. The subtlety of style makes this book quite successful - a satisfying reading of familiar ingredients.

Ursula DeYoung does not offer us anything new, but she makes the old shine. Did not we read books with young boys as narrators? We did. Did not we read books where the characters eavesdroping and spying on each other? We did, of course. Are we not familiar with atmosphere of tension in a big house full of people, at home on the edge of the earth? And this all has happened before. Or is it unfamiliar to us, a book about human weaknesses, of betrayal and jealousy? Books are changing, but the people remain the same, and thus also their weaknesses remain unchanged.

Shorecliff for all its cliches successfully accomplishes several tasks. First, the author managed to describe many characters so they do not get confused in one’s head while reading. Due to the small details, we can easily distinguish Francesca and Pamela or Fischer and Tom. Of course, not all the cousins play an equally important role in the novel’s events, it’s hard to confuse the characters. Not all of them are colorful characters, everyone is clear and compelling.

Secondly, DeYoung does not use cheap tricks, trying to surprise us on every page. In the end, the action takes place in a family house in Maine away from the city and not in Disneyland. The book still surprises but when it’s realy needed. The author prepares us for surprises, carefully revealing the relationship between relatives. Learning the characters closer, we can better understand their motives.

Third, the book is written very smoothly. Voice of the narrator is measured, such, that is immediately obvious – it is the memoirs of a mature man, not a boy. The author knows how to build a composition, how to suck the reader in, how to prepare us for the surprises.

The novel is far from the original, but I have not found a reason not to love it.

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