Author: Ursula DeYoung
Coming of age has never been so difficult as for 13 year old Richard. It is 1928, and Richard Killing’s family is traveling from New York to spend the summer with his extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins as Richard has no siblings – in the summer house Shorecliff on the coast of Maine. His father, who terrifies Richard, is staying in New York, to Richard’s intense gratification, as he and his mother are very close. The Hatfields, who own the summer house, consist of Richard’s mother Caroline, four sisters and Uncle Kurt, his mother’s only living brother. Her other brother, Harold, was killed in the Great War.
Like Faulkner’s Compsons, the Hatfield family is insular and secretive. In the vein of Peter Taylor, Ms. De Young wraps us around a summer of devious disillusionment and family turmoil through the eyes of an immature boy has ears for everyone in the family, as Richard hovers to listen to them as he hides in the eaves of Shorecliff. Lonely and the youngest cousin, Richard’s inclusion in the family is minimal at best.
Shorecliff revels in revealing the Hatfield’s in their pompous, aristocratic illusions of patriarchal Uncle Kurt and the four devious aunts, while Richard and his mother remain almost passively in the periphery of the family. Devastatingly original, the story is narrated by grown up Richard, who carries the most grief of a summer both tragic and yet thriving with characters that are so real we rest inside their convoluted souls. Unbelievably, this debut novel proves full of a family both rich and emotionally fine tuned in its expectations and strife.
Uncle Kurt, who is writing a novel this summer, carries his military wounds like a torch and enlivens Richard’s life with stories of war. He is Richard’s hero until he morphs into someone else. Richard’s cousins are many: Tom, who is in college, will arrive last. Francesca Ybarra is the daughter of Aunt Loretta, and wears her astounding 21 year old beauty like a tempestuous storm. She has two other siblings. Charlie, 20, Fisher, 16, Yvette, 18, and Pamela Wight. Pamela, also 13, stays closest to Richard as they are the same age.
Francesca’s brother Philip Ybarra, is 18. Tom Robierre’s sister Isabella is 17, and two unrelated girls both called Delia – Delia Ybarra and Delia Robierre, are both 15.
Frank and Cedric, husbands, bachelor Uncle Kurt, Great Uncle Eberhardt and his companion, groundskeeper Condor round out the cast, along with the aunts. As the cousins pair off in a coastal house that stands alone and a family insulated against each other, the cousins try to stay occupied in their bleak coastline prison. When Richard’s father appears for one weekend, he sets the family on end as he states a truth about Aunt Loretta that destroys Francesca and leads the family on the path that they cannot fathom nor stop.
As DeYoung spins her tale against and around each character, Shorecliff remains in the foreground with its own Gothic appeal. This is one of the best novels of the year, as Richard reveals not only the darkness inside himself but the twists and turns of every other character as they each enter the abyss of the tragic summer and its revelations.
Truly magnificent in plot and characterization wrapped within DeYoung’s sensuous prose, this is a novel of the summer not to miss.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own
Shorecliff: A Novelis available on Amazon.com and booksellers nationwide