Eleven teenage cousins, just turned 13 to aging out at 20, along with the aunts and uncles, some of them old bachelors, move into an isolated family vacation home on the rocky coast of Maine (probably in the Boothbay to Camden area), to spend the entire summer of 1928.
They bring into the vast but slightly dilapidated cottage with its sprawling lawns and nearby cliffs not only their bathing suits and other summer wear, but also all the baggage of their histories and passions sure to set the pressure cooker situation a boil. No cell phones, no iPads to let off steam.
Everything’s in place for a gripping and magical read.
Happily, Ursula DeYoung delivers on the premise marvelously well in her debut novel "Shorecliff."
It’s quite a departure for the author whose first book was a biography, "A Vision of Modern Science" about the 19th century physicist John Tyndall. Yet not totally so, as she writes about the Maine wildlife and ecology vividly and assuredly.
Not surprisingly because of its undercurrent of sin and sinning, this excellent novel about cousins interacting continues a genre that has New England antecedents. The earliest perhaps being Louisa May Alcott’s high minded 1875 "8 Cousins or The Aunt Hill." That story of the recently orphaned Rose sent to live with great aunts and a host of boy cousins in Boston, like "Shorecliff, " rides on the tide of an awakening feminism. As well, DeYoung’s story line’s critical turn presents a moral issue for the book’s narrator and central character, the youngest cousin.
DeYoung writes with an easy grace. To the reader’s advantage as well, she has also taken the King in "Alice in Wonderland"’s courtroom testimony advice to heart: "begin at the beginning, and go on until you come to the end, then stop."