The Shore Girl
By Fran Kimmell
$19.95 NeWest Press
If you are a fan of Canadian literature, then this may be the book for you.
The author is from Lacombe, the setting is Alberta (all points) and the pumpjacks dot the landscape throughout the story.
The writing here is smooth and readable, but the story is bleak with many odd characters.
The real story begins with Judge Shore, a widower with two small children, Victoria and Elizabeth. His wife died giving birth to Elizabeth, leaving him bitter and stern, but now the girls are grown. Victoria left home early, running from too many rules; Elizabeth leaves when she gives birth at age 16, to Rebee, a little girl.
Something happens to put Elizabeth on the run — she and her small child live all over Alberta. If they attract attention in one place, they go somewhere else. No one suspects her of any thing but this “pick up and leave life” becomes a pattern, and Rebee does not lead a normal life. She grows shy and careful.
Their nomadic life is made possible by deposits from the Judge into Elizabeth’s bank account. Elizabeth now calls herself “Harmony” and does not allow anyone to get close to her and Rebee.
Aunt Vic works in an Alberta bar, which requires her to wear high heels, so her feet hurt, and she’s a drinker.
Mrs. Neilson is now an old woman, but she cared for the Judge’s children when they were young. She’s in poor health and has become a hoarder.
Rebee does not always go to school, but Miss Bel teaches her in Winter Lake, N.W.T. Miss Bel is in the wrong job, and her despair and loneliness are leading her to a mental breakdown.
When Jake the oilman shows up, there is a glimmer of hope for Harmony and Rebee. He’s a decent type, with lots of money, and he’s attracted to this unusual pair. He’s also trying to locate his brother Matt, who has disappeared, maybe by choice.
Finally we have Carla and Joey. Carla was once fostered by Mrs. Neilson, now she has found religion, and means to park Joey (13) with old “granny” Neilson while she saves the Africans.
Joey is even more neglected than Rebee, and when he’s nervous, as he is most of the time, he suffers explosive vomiting.
As you can see, this is not a happy story, and there are mysteries here.
Why would someone so discordant wish to be known as Harmony?
What did the missing Uncle Matt bring to the story?
Could Aunt Vic find work in a bar where she could wear runners?
When Rebee finally finds a real home to live in, how does she live with no income?
Although Rebee becomes tough, she has missed so much that is normal for a child that there is little hope that she find happiness.
This is Kimmel’s first novel. It is a complicated yarn, a bit crowded with unfortunate folks.
Peggy Freeman is a local freelance book reviewer.