SWIMMING by Joanna Hershon


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Unrealized or discarded possibility are both the subject and nature of this earnest debut, a story reminiscent of the family-centered fiction of Sue Miller and Jane Hamilton.

It begins in 1966, when Jeb Wheeler meets Vivian Silver and impulsively brings her to his house in the New Hampshire woods. The action then fast-forwards to 1987: the Wheelers’ eldest son Aaron, 21 years later, has brought his gorgeous girlfriend Suzanne Wolfe for a visit. His parents are barely glimpsed presences (as they remain in fact), but Hershon focuses close attention on Aaron’s mercurial eight-year-old sister Lila and especially his brother Jack, a vaguely sinister, sardonic misfit to whom Suzanne finds herself helplessly attracted. A midnight swim following a chaotic party at a friend’s house shatters the Wheelers’ already precarious solidarity, ends Aaron’s relationship with Lila, sends him into self-imposed exile—and leads to a long final sequence dominated by the heretofore peripheral figure of Lila. Another decade has passed: she’s now a student and part-time tutor in New York City, and she directly engages the ghosts of the Wheelers’ past upon reencountering (now married) Suzanne and laboriously extracting the truth about her family’s losses and Aaron’s whereabouts. In a scarcely credible series of scenes, Lila finds Aaron (who doesn’t recognize her), acknowledges in herself the tortuous complex of motives and emotions experienced by the people whom she’s been quick to blame, and achieves a muted reconciliation. Much of Swimming absorbs and satisfies, because Hershon writes lucid, stinging dialogue and movingly conveys the sense of hollowness and waste that overpowers the lives of her people. The characterizations are sketchy, however, making for both an intermittently static and overlong read.

A flawed if interesting debut by a more than capable writer who’ll surely give us better.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-345-43914-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2001


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