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At some point, we all ask ourselves the timeless questions: What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? If there is one, why is there so much suffering in the world? With all its destruction and bloodletting, why does war persist? In his stunningly ambitious debut novel, The Far Shore, Paul Scheuring considers these and other questions through the prism of a thrilling and suspenseful mystery. Creator of the hit television series Prison Break, Scheuring has crafted a beautifully written novel that contains something for everyone: intrigue, drama, humor, philosophy, history, and culture. Woven throughout are moments of quiet contemplation and heartbreaking pathos.
Lonely, adrift, and suffering from ennui, Lily Allen works at a tedious office job during the day, only to come home to a cramped, cluttered apartment at night. Her sole comfort consists of vegging out in front of the TV while consuming a steady diet of Coors Lights and Klondike bars. As Lily longs to escape her rut, her dream seemingly comes true when an heir-finder informs her that her grandfather, Gray Allen, left behind a fortune to the tune of $16 million. Rightfully suspicious, Lily’s quickly told that the “prize money” comes with a catch: She can only claim it if she’s able to locate her grandfather’s remains and prove he’s legally deceased. Unfortunately, she knows little about him as he went missing in action during World War II.
Driven by this potential windfall, Lily slaps on her detective cap and embarks on an international quest to retrace his steps. As her journey takes her across the world, from South Carolina to the Far East, she learns that she and her grandfather have more in common than blood relation: A traumatized soldier, he yearned to free himself from his haunted past by walking the Earth, seeking answers to life’s biggest questions. Lily realizes that, without even knowing it, she has also been searching for answers and a sense of meaning in her own life. However, if she’s to ever uncover this pot of gold, she’ll not only have to risk life and limb, she’ll have to conquer her own demons as well.
The Far Shore is a gripping page-turner, one that will keep you up into the early hours of the morning, eagerly following Lily’s journey into the unknown. In truth, part of what makes the novel so engaging is that it’s as much about Gray (the grandfather) as it is about Lily. What’s more, Gray’s story is actually a series of stories told by the people who encountered him over the years. Unfettered by time or place, Scheuring cleverly uses this device as a way to immerse the reader into his characters’ lives and perspectives. Meanwhile, he deftly weaves these characters’ narratives into a whole, and as a result, Gray, who starts out a ghostlike figure at the beginning of the novel, is a fully defined character by the end.
A perfect blend of escapism and realism, you could simply sit back and lose yourself in the mystery, which serves as the bedrock of The Far Shore. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, as Scheuring incorporates a range of ideas into his work, the more rewarding experience involves taking time to reflect on the subtle insights laced throughout. While relating his story to Lily, Kesuke, a Japanese Buddhist monk, says it best: “I now know that a man’s surface thoughts are rarely what actually drives him; those thoughts are effectively just a movie projected upon his consciousness, a facile narrative to render the confusing experience of life into a most easily digestible shorthand. The really interesting stuff is what is going on over in the darkness by the projector. The real currents of the soul.”
In terms of dialogue, Scheuring’s extensive experience as a screenwriter has obviously paid off, as he possesses a real ear for it. Realistic and natural, it effortlessly flows across the page like the voice of an old and dear friend. Similarly, Scheuring paints his scenes in such startling detail that you can actually feel Gray’s terror as the artillery shells rain down on him during an especially harrowing battle. Later, as Gray traverses the Bangladeshi countryside, living off the land, you can feel the smooth earth beneath his bare feet.
As a good chunk of the novel focuses on Gray’s nightmarish experiences as a World War II soldier, there are some disturbing passages not meant for the faint of heart. However, it’s this grittiness that enhances the realism of the novel. Scheuring doesn’t sugarcoat the cruelty humanity is capable of, and seen through this lens, the novel is also a grim exploration of how we cope with life’s inherent suffering and pain. Fortunately, Scheuring wisely knows to balance this weighty subject matter with Lily’s modern humor and dry wit. Here she is offering her views on the opposite sex: “Men were ultimately funny. Actors that didn’t know they were bad. Wholly transparent, with no clue that they were so. Any complexity they exhibited during the romance stage—whether in business, relationships, dating, or conversation—could always be reduced to a binary of sex and power.” In a less capable writer’s hands, this could come off as bitter or even shrewish; yet, Scheuring imbues Lily with a combination of strength and humility that instantly makes her a likeable protagonist.
The Far Shore is many things: an exciting mystery, a meditation on humanity and its capacity for war, an individual’s path to enlightenment. It’s also the understanding that, while life can be painful and isolating, it’s only by turning outward toward your fellow man that you can truly begin to heal. I highly recommend The Far Shore for anyone who enjoys curling up on the couch and diving into a juicy mystery, one full of labyrinthine twists and turns. What’s more, with its spiritually rich and profound insights, it may just illuminate a few dark corners in your life.