Rich, intelligent writing is somewhat at odds with a simplistic, Love-Cures-All scenario in this talented first novel: the...

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WATER DANCER

Rich, intelligent writing is somewhat at odds with a simplistic, Love-Cures-All scenario in this talented first novel: the story of a young, unstable swimmer who finds healing affection (lesbian and otherwise) while training for a near-impossible, coldwater, long-distance swim. Dorey Thomas, a world-class swimmer with emotional problems (largely connected to a close, damaging relationship with her mother), is determined to swim the San Antonio Strait--so she presents herself at the doorstep of ""Sarge"" Olssen, famed swimmer-turned-trainer. Sarge, however, is reluctant about helping Dorey: his son Matt recently died in an attempt to master the San Antonio--and neither Sarge nor wife Ilana has recovered from the guilt/pain/loss. Still, the challenge reasserts itself. Something about Dorey draws both Sarge and Ilana to her. And the training begins--with help from Dr. ""Tycho"" Gallagher, an astrologer/medico with a smashed-in face (result of a mysterious, long-ago assault by a friend); and from ex-swimmer Anne Norton, now a Spanish Lit. teacher whose illustrator-boyfriend Rick has mixed feelings about her temporary return (as Dorey's ""pacer"") to the swim biz. But, though Dorey swims impressively in a punishing Quebec race (grueling stroke-by-stroke detail), the training is endangered by her psychic fragility: she has insomnia-and is haunted by memories of a recent, immobilizing breakdown. (""I felt that if, if I kept moving, you know, I'd disintegrate and crack apart into the wave. . . . So I stopped moving."") So Ilana, ostensibly in order to relieve Dorey's insomnia, reaches out to her in a maternal embrace--""not erotic. . . a vast and pleasing tenderness""--and this develops into a near-obsessive love affair. Sarge is disturbed by the relationship at first, of course. But then--especially after he too sleeps with Dorey--he becomes more open, accepting: ""now he understood something and so the sense of betrayal slid from him like an unwanted outer skin."" Thus, finally, with both Sarge and liana as lover/parents (plus other sorts of support from Tycho and Anne), Dorey is ready to make the swim--a two-attempt effort which Levin renders with cold, achy, out-of-breath vividness. The psychological journey here, however, is less convincing: neither Dorey's maturation nor the Olssens' emergence from grief is persuasively linked to the crisscrossing affection and sex. And the ultimate effectthen, comes perilously close to a trendily sexual variation on old-fashioned Love-Conquers-All sentimentality. Still, in dozens of insightful passages along the way--evocations of mood, of moments, of physical sensations--Levin demonstrates strong, assured prose; her sense of pacing, too, indicates a rare feel for full-length fiction. So: a flawed but impressive debut--with obvious extra appeal for those interested in marathon swimming or other psycho-physical feats of endurance.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1982

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Poseidon/Pocket Books--dist. by Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1982