Dunbar takes the slow route to get to his horror and i appreciate it! the writing is bleak, cold-eyed yet haunting, evocative - a kind of southern gothic set in the new jersey pine barrens. most characters are portrayed as human insects of three varieties - predatory, on a sad downward spiral, or both. when positive human emotions and interactions come to the forefront, its almost as if a great battle has been won to allow those rays of humanity their brief moments... the smallest positive gestures become almost profound when set against a backdrop of such unrelenting darkness. the supernatural element is handled with a very careful touch. some great, scary set pieces, particularly the trailer attack and the climax. of course the real horrors in this novel are the living conditions portrayed and the basic (and nauseating) callowness of most of the characters. overall this is an excellent and well-written horror novel with none of the cheesiness of other Leisure titles and i'm surprised it's not better known. perhaps this is due to the slowly unwinding narrative; although i found it to be quite gripping, the reader interested in a visceral rollercoaster will no doubt grow impatient. for me, the slow unwinding is part of what sets this novel firmly in the literary horror tradition - the richness of the language and murkiness of what is exactly occurring makes the experience a pleasantly challenging one. Dunbar clearly knows how to write traditional, "modern" horror (as presented during the opening sequence and, most effectively, in the disturbing bits involving a a doomed camping trip)...and just as clearly he has set his sights higher.
Dunbar's follow-up to The Pines is a satisfying experience. it seems as if the many years between novels has served to intensify rather than decrease his disinterest in presenting traditional horror thrills, and this novel is if anything even more challenging to the reader expecting a simple, scary narrative. straightforward suspense is still available: during the prologue (The Pines contains a similarly suspense filled teaser) and in particular during a very entertaining sequence in which a classic sociopath toys with an equally classic foe - a haughty psychoanalyst. but that's pretty much it - the rest of the novel is for fully engaged readers only. thoughts from characters are presented in an almost stream of conscious type format, disallowing easy identification and instead creating an overwhelming mood of weak, despairing humans grasping ineffectively at basic reasons for their existence. horrible murders occur, but the focus is placed almost entirely on those too-weak humans, the complete inability of any of the characters to truly understand each other's motives, the slow decay of a seaside town, the atmosphere of wintry isolation and a cold, dead, encroaching sea. if the novel has a weakness, it is one that is oddly shared by The Pines: in that novel, the female protagonist often comes across as too smart, too hard, too ruthless in her outlook; in The Shore, the female protagonist comes across as the opposite - at some points, so dithery as to appear almost mentally disabled. but perhaps there is purpose in that too. at one point a character theorizes the horrors may be a sign of sinister changes facing the human world, evolution as something to be feared. i saw something quite different: de-evolution, of a sort: the chthonic past coming back to haunt the present, forcing the regression of civilization back into the primal. the rather magnificent final set piece felt like a metaphor for this backwards movement. as the various characters chase and are chased around the town, in and out of abandoned buildings, a police station, an amusement park...nature itself smashes the landscape, wind and rain and floods quickly dismantling the built-up world, the sea itself rushing in to destroy all in its path, as the characters struggle to understand each other, themselves, and the horrors that threaten to submerge them.