Saturday, April 23, 2011

Swimming by Nicola Keegan

I picked this up from the "Best Bets" shelf at my library.  I chose it based on the cover (see image right), and this description on the back, "Keegan's energy jumps off the page....Swimming is a wonderful coming-of-age story, a richly detailed account of a young woman channeling her rage, grief and insecurity into a passion to win.  The voice Keegan has invented for Pip is sarcastic, thoughtful, elegant, irreverent."  Plus, Judy Blume said, "I loved Swimming.  It's the most original novel I've read all year.  I can't get Pip's voice out of my mind.  Give yourself a treat this summer--read this book."  Seems like a book that I would like, right?  And while I didn't hate it, I wouldn't really recommend it.  There are so many better books.

I haven't ever read a book written in exactly this style.  It's first person, kind of stream of consciousness and all in Philomena's head.  The dialogue is only differentiated with italics, and chronology, ages, even settings, are often vague.  Sometimes she is telling you an old memory and then switches to what's happening now without any transition.  I thought it was interesting, and for me it worked sometimes, but other times it didn't.

Philomena is an interesting character.  You like her, then she and her friends are so mean and vulgar that you don't, then you feel bad for her and her falling apart family, then you feel proud, then annoyed.  I'm just not sure if over all I like her.  And even though you are in her head the whole time, it still feels detached. 

The story is really sad.  Her sister dies of cancer, a little later her dad dies in a plane crash, her mom stops leaving the house, her dog dies, and another sister ODs.  It has some good moments (like 11 Olympic gold medals!!) and some family reconciliations.  I enjoyed all the swimming stuff and also some insights the characters make.  I also liked how she uses "nervous breakdown" instead of "anxiety attack"  because, that's what they were called in the 80's.

Here are some quotes I thought were worth sharing:

"I feel the immense power of the dead, as if someone's flipped a switch and now I can see what's been making the shadows."

"If you move an atom, somewhere else an atom stops and starts twisting in the opposite direction.  Something like that has happened; things are exactly the same but twisting.  This is the opposite of joy."

"I only appreciate drama when it happens to fake people.  Roxanne doesn't like drama unless she's creating it.  Dot accepts drama as the weight she has to carry as naturally as her bones, but drama open a third eye in my mother, who now sees the drama in all things."

"So I opt for an English major with a French option.  English is better than perfect.  I sit around listening to real people talk about fake ones."

"There are two sea turtles swimming in front of her, an old one and a new one, with green froggy faces, two marble eyes, a round snout.  I feel my heart flood with love.  I am at one with everything as my breath bubbles out my tube into the hot dry air."

"Babies are...I've never thought...I stop mid sentence, filled with a dose of terror so intense my palms start to weep...What if you forget about it for a second and it rummages around in its bed until it buries itself in a blanket?  What if you leave it on the bed and it rolls on to a knife?"

So, I enjoyed parts of this book.  I'm interested to see what Nicola Keegan will do next.  I think she's a pretty good writer.  But I think there are enough other, better books for you to read.


Betsy said...

I've never trusted that Judy Blume. . . said...

I like the quotes-esp about being an English major. Since they were the best part, maybe I'll skip the book.