By Julie Otsuka
Knopf, 9780593321331, February 2022, 192pp.
The Short of It:
This slim novel packs a punch.
The Rest of It:
When the story opens, we meet the swimmers. A group of people who frequent the community pool for laps, sometimes social interaction, but mostly as a form of therapy. The busyness of their lives comes to a halt once they submerge themselves in the water. All the noise of the world is drowned out and they are left with their thoughts as trivial as some of them may be.
As their routines unfold daily, Otsuka takes note of each detail. Almost in a checklist format. We learn about the rules of the pool and how some of the swimmers follow them religiously, and some not so much but never enough to lose their pool privileges because it’s clear that each of them value that time in the water.
The second half of the story focuses on a startling flaw that appears in the form of a crack, along the bottom of the pool. What does it mean? Is it just cosmetic? Will it grow larger? Does it represent a larger issue that could jeopardize their cherished swim time? As with most changes in routine, the appearance of this crack does not go over well.
In fact, we see how it affects these swimmers, specifically Alice who is suffering from dementia. Her time in the pool, and the regular interaction with the other swimmers is what holds her memory together but as soon as that is disrupted, her memory begins to slip away even more quickly. Her daughter relays to the reader her mother’s time in the Japanese internment camp and how bits of those memories float around untethered only to disappear all together.
The Swimmers is a little sad but also wonderful. Otsuka brings importance to every minute detail.
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6 thoughts on “Review: The Swimmers”
I have no record of it, but I think I tried to read The Buddha in the Attic and didn’t finish. I would like to try this one, though, so I’ll see about borrowing a copy from the library. I enjoy reading books about aging and this one sounds interesting.
I have the audio, plan on starting it soon.
I’m glad you liked this one — I have it on my summer list! I’m curious how it plays out.
I would love to read this one. My daughter’s swim time at practice is that time for her. Drown out the anxieties and noise and find calm.
I really liked Buddha in the Attic so am drawn to this one despite it’s odd premise. It might be a fun read for me since I could relate to it with my Saturday morning swim group at the Y 🙂