The Shore Girl
by Fran Kimmel
They’re everywhere. A certain kind of young mother, single, unemployed, pushing prams, kids in tow as they walk and walk … yet something suggests there’s no real destination—that hours, days, years, are merely something to get through … until … what? More kids maybe, another guy, another unfortunate choice. Because for some people life is a series of unfortunate choices or, worse, unfortunate events. Whatever the reason, they keep moving, these mothers, as if in the hope it’ll all somehow ‘become’ right. They’re recognizable—not by any expression of hope—but by their sadness, sometimes by the look of fear in their eyes. We worry about them for a moment but mostly do nothing. We wring our hands for the children: what chance do they stand?
and then we drive on by …
This is the impression we take. We of the narrow minds.
Fran Kimmel either doesn’t have a narrow mind or is just a lot brighter than many of us. Or more aware. Her book The Shore Girl, the story of Rebee Shore, shows the world of single motherhood and their kids from the inside out, through a child’s eyes and [in dedicated chapters] through the eyes of everyone who is—by blood or choice—connected to her.
But there’s a difference: Rebee’s mother [Elizabeth, who prefers to go by Harmony] isn’t a pram pushing sort of mum. She’s on the run, rejecting her past and doing her best to dodge the present, which happens to include her daughter. From infancy into her teens, Rebee’s life alternates between moving constantly from van to motel to trailer to relative’s couch. “… Harmony gets restless. For her, a new place has a three-month expiry date, same as fruit bars.”
And if she’s not moving with her mother, she’s being temporarily abandoned by her.
In other words, the kid has every reason to be angry, to follow suit, to make a mess of her life. She has the excuses. But that’s not what happens. Rebee is one of those miracles who, instead of becoming resentful, learns through the very debris of her childhood that she has to be strong because her mother is preoccupied just keeping them alive.
“I thought how rage must hurt in the beginning, but a person gets so used to it, she thinks it’s a heat a body’s supposed to feel.”
She gets it.
It’s why she keeps a box of fingernail clippings, mostly Harmony’s, the various shades of nail polish reminding her of places they’ve stayed; it’s the only constant in her life, the only thing that reminds her of where she’s been and the only part of her mother that she can protect from disappearing.
We rumble along the highway under a watery sky, past wheat rolled into giant soup cans, cows frozen in muck. I think about where we just came from. I can’t remember the colour of the walls or feel of the curtains or shape of the bathroom sink. Blank as water, like on a test day in a new school and I end up at the fountain, gulping, drowning… I slip off my runners and slide my toe across my bag until it touches my nail box. We’ll get to wherever we’re going tonight… I’ll wait awhile. Sprinkle the brittle bits on my blanket. Sift them like seashells.
While often told from Rebee’s perspective, it’s very much Harmony’s story too, one that has her cemented in shame and anger.
All that and yet … The Shore Girl is ultimately hopeful. It’s about connection, the small and unfathomable ways we touch each other and thereby save each other. About reclaiming what’s ours and how family comes in various forms. It’s about getting beyond what’s ‘normal’. About using the scraps you’ve been tossed.
Above all, it reminds us that our story is never obvious to others, nor is it entirely ours alone.
(This review has appeared elsewhere.)
Fran Kimmel has been previously featured on Reading Recommendations. Carin Makuz, while never having been directly promoted as an author on Reading Recommendations, is a great pal of this site. Carin maintains two blogs: Matilda Magtree and The Litter I See Project, which has featured the work of a number of RR-promoted authors (including Fran and me!) and was promoted on the blog in Nov. 2015.