The Dunne family has made a comfortable home in Seaside, New Jersey. Margot and Brian Dunne have built a business of beach-house rentals, and their teenage daughters, Liz and Evy, help out on weekends. But this summer, a fast-growing brain tumor has turned energetic Brian into a stranger who is prone to obsessive behavior and speaks in meaningless phrases. Brian is dying, and Margot, Liz and Evy take turns caring for him and accommodating his odd demands in “a world where all the same rules of how to behave still applied, even if he couldn’t follow them anymore.”
Katie Runde’s debut novel, The Shore, rotates through the perspectives of Margot, Liz, and Evy as they attempt to carry on with their lives while managing Brian’s care. Liz and Evy work summer jobs—Liz renting out beach umbrellas and Evy making candy at Sal’s Sweets—while seeking, and maybe finding, their first loves. Margot soldiers on at the business that she and Brian worked so hard to build over the years, which now makes her feel trapped.
But Margot is also keeping a secret, one that helps her cope with her difficult present and imagine a life after Brian. She has an account on a site called GBM Wives, an online support group for women whose husbands have glioblastoma multiforme tumors. What she doesn’t know is that Evy has caught on and is lurking in the forum where Margot shares all the fears, anger and secrets she’s concealing from her daughters.
Runde has written a heartfelt family drama saturated with a sense of place and the passage of time. Brian’s decline occurs over the course of one summer, but the novel also explores the long, complicated history of Margot and Brian’s relationship. Along with the particulars of life in a Jersey Shore town and evocative sensory details of the beach, Runde vividly renders a portrait of a family on the edge. The novel occasionally moves into a more lyrical, meditative mode that imagines the Dunnes in the future, but there is also excellent use of more prosaic text messages and emails.
The Shore will appeal to readers of Tracey Lange’s We Are the Brennans and Rachel Beanland’s Florence Adler Swims Forever, two other family stories with slowly revealed secrets.