Part erotic exposé, part portrait of a dead-end life, Gibbon’s slim first novel maintains a striking balance between the sacred and the profane.
Evangeline, a senior in high school, has little to look forward to but the sexual encounters she shares with her boyfriend, Del (and her best friends, June and Ray, who occupy either the front or back seat of the car). Told in explicit detail, Vangie and Del's relationship, sexual as well as romantic, serves as the paradigm for life in their small Pennsylvania town—violent, claustrophobic, and desperate. When graduation arrives, the two couples indirectly part ways: Vangie and Del rent a small house together, and June and Ray move in with Ray's older brother, Luke. Working at a chicken ranch, waitressing at a roughneck restaurant, picking fruit—backbreaking labor—at an orchard: Vangie's jobs offer a searing portrait of the bleak nature of manual labor, where her only respite is an evening of sex and getting high before the next day of work begins. Her public life, however, serves only as a minor chord. It is Vangie and Del’s private relationship that provides the storyline as love and violence grow between the two. Often drunk, Del urges Vangie to sexual extremes, which both satisfies her and assuages her shame at having slept with Del's brother and then June's brother. Into her own guilty entanglements comes June's revelation that she is not only sleeping with Ray but also with Luke, the outcome of which provides a brutal and poignant conclusion. Bleak and graphic in its realism, Swimming succeeds in keeping the reader’s attention (though this may have more to do with voyeuristic titillation than any true momentum built), providing, if not enjoyment, at least interest in the lives depicted.
A little short on resounding depth but, still, a promising debut.