NIGHTSWIMMER by Joseph Olshan


Email this review


Olshan (The Waterline, 1989, etc.) has written a beautiful and flawed novel about two gay men learning to trust again. One night, when Will Kaplan was living in Southern California, he and his lover went out for an ocean swim, something they had done numerous times together, but this time his lover vanished. Now, ten years later and living in Manhattan, Will still doesn't know if he drowned or ran off, scared of the ever-increasing intensity of their relationship. Since the disappearance, Will has been in a series of failed relationships, each marred by the fact that Will hasn't been able to completely commit to anyone else or let anyone else close to him. But then he meets the equally damaged Sean Paris, and together they dance around intimacy. Set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic, as well as against the shallow, hedonistic scene of Fire Island and the gay discos, their relationship unfolds in front of several jealous ex-lovers and lovers of their exes, all of whom seem intent on disrupting Will and Sean's chances for happiness. Olshan's writing is consistently excellent, his long, careful observations about obsession, loss, and rejection are often transcendent. Yet the book sometimes bogs down in the mechanics of the strained plot, especially in the mystery of Sean's former lover. Also one wonders why the book is written from the point of view of Will having a one-way conversation with Sean (e.g., ""Then you jumped off your chair...""). One keeps waiting for a payoff from this odd and obtrusive device, but it never happens, and it doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than as an experiment. Destined to be compared with James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, this is a passionate and deeply felt book. But like Baldwin, OIshan deems it necessary to surround a powerful love story with an awkward and distracting plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster