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Reading Group Guide
*Also available as a downloadable document here
This reading group guide for The Shore includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Meet the Dunne family, year-round residents of Seaside, New Jersey, where they run a vacation house rental business for the tourists who come and go every year. Between last summer and this one, Brian developed a brain tumor that has transformed him into a stranger to his wife, Margot, and their teen daughters, Liz and Evy. Each of the women fights to maintain a sense of normalcy as they adjust to new caretaking responsibilities and the anticipatory grief of a long good-bye. Liz seeks distraction in a flirtatious relationship with Gabe, a coworker at her boardwalk job who doesn’t know her family’s situation and is only in town for the summer. Evy, in between shifts at Sal’s Sweets and falling in love with her best friend, Olivia, secretly adopts the persona of a middle-aged mom in an online support group, where she learns some of her own mother’s deepest secrets. Meanwhile, Margot juggles running the family business, remembering when she first met Brian, and planning a new future for her and the girls somewhere far away from the hometown that shaped her.
A heartbreaking story infused with moments of spiky humor, The Shore explores first loves and family secrets, grief and growing up, and the ways we find comfort while coping with unimaginable loss.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. We meet the Dunnes after Brian’s brain tumor has already changed him into a different person than the husband and father Margot, Liz, and Evy knew. How has his diagnosis also changed each of them? How do they deal with the uncertainty of not knowing when the end will come? What changes when Dr. Zimorodi tells them, with more certainty, “by the end of summer” (page 72)?
2. Discuss the use of social media in the novel—from Evy and Liz curating their Instagram profiles and checking up on their friends and crushes, to Margot finding support in an online forum and going through Brian’s old Facebook posts. How does social media function as an outlet for the characters? What positive and negative effects does it have?
3. What do you think of Evy’s decision to invent a new identity on GBM Wives forum? Discuss her reaction to learning privileged information about her parents on the forum. How does this compare to Liz’s reaction to stumbling upon Brian and Margot’s college emails?
4. Writing as Pamplemousse7 about losing someone to a glioblastoma multiforme tumor, Evy asks the GBM wives: “It’s worth it, isn’t it, to buy a few more months even if he isn’t himself, even if he can only see in tunnels and splotches? . . . If it’s a person parading around who looks like your husband but who’s acting like an agitated stranger you wouldn’t want to sit next to on a bus? If it means taking care of a person who is not a person you know? Even then?” (page 14). How does each woman in the Dunne family deal with this existential question? What final moments with Brian lighten, if however briefly, the pain of losing him?
5. Discuss the relationship between Liz and Evy. While they each have their own lives—jobs, friends, romances, and ways of coping—how do they come together to support each other and their family over the course of the summer?
6. “Coexisting with a stranger was not possible without imagining escape” (pages 22 to 23), thinks Margot as she dreams about selling off E&E Rentals and starting fresh. Why do you think she is so eager to move away? What do you think of her choice to hide this decision from her daughters? Why do they feel differently about the prospect of leaving Seaside?
7. “Distraction is medicine,” thinks Liz on page 48. Have you found this to be true? How does the girls’ way of finding distraction and escape in Seaside differ from Margot’s? What moments of humor and levity from the book help balance the heaviness of the plot?
8. As Evy and Liz chase after their own “firsts,” they worry: “Is it okay if I do this even though we’re in this shitty holding pattern? Is it okay that this is all happening at the same time, am I a horrible person for wanting these things right now?” (page 175). What would you say to a friend or sibling in this situation?
9. “There were so many ways to break someone’s heart and leave them when they needed you,” muses Margot. Discuss previous betrayals in their marriage. Do you think that kind of “emotional affair” is “no better or worse” than a physical one (page 169)? How did they come to a place of forgiveness?
10. Why doesn’t Liz tell Gabe about Brian’s state? Discuss the rocky ending of their relationship. How do you think she’ll remember him? How do you feel about your first love?
11. Discuss the idea of anticipatory grief—what the author describes as “loss-before-loss” (page 289). How do each of the Dunnes begin processing their grief while still caring for the person they will lose? What role does memory and nostalgia play in this process?
12. Part III opens with a shift into the second person point of view. How did this shift impact your experience reading that chapter?
13. The tension between Margot and her daughters reaches a tipping point while she is in Galesta. How do they address their conflict? Do any parts of their mother-daughter dynamic remind you of your relationship with your own mother?
14. Discuss the idea of double lives in the novel—Liz hiding the truth about her father from Gabe, Evy creating a fake identity online, Margot hiding a major secret from her daughters, and each of them saving face in their professional lives despite what’s happening at home. Do you think we are different people in different situations?
15. How do the glimpses of Brian’s perspective shape your opinion of his character?
16. How will being from Seaside shape the course of Liz and Evy’s lives? How has where you’re from shaped your life?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Do some online window shopping for vacation rentals on the Jersey Shore. See if you can find any family-run businesses that remind you of E&E Rentals.
2. Make a playlist of songs and artists mentioned in The Shore for your book club meeting. Are any of them nostalgic favorites of yours? What memories do you associate with them?
3. Look up and discuss the poems mentioned in the book: “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop and “The Raincoat” by Ada Limón. How do they resonate with the themes of The Shore?
4. Read The Fortnight in September by R. C. Sherriff, a 1931 novel about a family’s annual vacation in a seaside town, where they stay in a family-run rental. What parallel themes or echoes do you notice between this book and The Shore? What ideas about families, growing up, endings, and life in a seaside tourist town resonate over time?