A disjointed debut memoir about how competitive swimming shaped the personal and artistic sensibilities of a respected illustrator.
Through a series of vignettes, paintings and photographs that often have no sequential relationship to each other, Shapton (The Native Trees of Canada, 2010, etc.) depicts her intense relationship to all aspects of swimming: pools, water, races and even bathing suits. The author trained competitively throughout her adolescence, yet however much she loved racing, “the idea of fastest, of number one, of the Olympics, didn’t motivate me.” In 1988 and again in 1992, she qualified for the Olympic trials but never went further. Soon afterward, Shapton gave up competition, but she never quite ended her relationship to swimming. Almost 20 years later, she writes, “I dream about swimming at least three nights a week.” Her recollections are equally saturated with stories that somehow involve the act of swimming. When she speaks of her family, it is less in terms of who they are as individuals and more in context of how they were involved in her life as a competitive swimmer. When she describes her adult life—which she often reveals in disconnected fragments—it is in ways that sometimes seem totally random. If she remembers the day before her wedding, for example, it is because she couldn't find a bathing suit to wear in her hotel pool. Her watery obsession also defines her view of her chosen profession, art. At one point, Shapton recalls a documentary about Olympian Michael Phelps and draws the parallel that art, like great athleticism, is as “serene in aspect” as it is “incomprehensible.”
While the author may attempt to mirror this ideal, the result is less than satisfying and more than a little irritating.