09 January 2012

Review: Night Swim by Jessica Keener

Fifteen-year-old girls need more than a big house, a country club membership, and music lessons. They need a steady source of emotional support. Sarah Kunitz knows that her family has failed her in some way but is unsure how or why.

Sarah's mother was a brilliant violinist who gave up music for afternoon card games, gardening, and cocktail parties when arthritis took control of her hands. Sarah senses her mother's other worldliness but doesn't know what's wrong with her. She blames her father for his complacency, and she can't find a way to make things right. After a combination of life-altering events shatters Sarah's world, the teen turns to her friends, and especially two boys, looking for acceptance and normality. When she gets more than she bargained for, true understanding comes from unexpected places.

Jessica Keener's lyrical Night Swim will most often be described as a coming-of-age story, and that description is not wrong. It is, however, more strongly an examination of a broken mother-daughter relationship.

Long ago I had a secret place in the backyard woods. I had a place in summer when it stayed light long after dinner and Mother let me play in the woods while she smoked and talked on the phone. I hummed, watching the sky turn a deeper blue, spilling across the clouds, becoming a flood of colors until Mother called me. I waited for her to call me. I leaned on this. (p. 276)
The book can also be looked at as a snapshot of the early 1970s. For example, upper-middle-class women in Sarah's Boston neighborhood spent their afternoons at the country club, getting their hair done, or attending luncheons. Most of them smoked, and many of them took prescription Valium right along with their evening martini. Odd children were consider just that, odd. They didn't have Asperger's syndrome, and none of them had therapists.

Because Night Swim can be read on multiple levels, it's a great choice for book clubs. Among the issues readers will want to discuss are parenting, music, mental health, grieving, teen sex, and sibling relationships.

Night Swim at Powell's
Night Swim at Book Depository
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Published by Fiction Studio Books, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781936558261
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Sandy Nawrot 1/9/12, 6:38 AM  

I loved the excerpt you shared with us awhile back when you highlighted this book, and your review just makes me even more interested.

bermudaonion 1/9/12, 6:54 AM  

I love the snapshot of the 70s you described. This book sounds interesting.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 1/9/12, 7:03 AM  

This one has my interest. I love the paragraph you cited --make me really want to try this one.

Beth Hoffman 1/9/12, 10:14 AM  

This has been on my radar for a while. I'm glad to know that you enjoyed it!

Cath @ Constance Reader 1/9/12, 11:01 AM  

I really love books like this, that capture this time and place and general attitude of this socioeconomic group. I wonder if you have read Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont? It sounds similar in tone, I think.

Ali B 1/9/12, 12:16 PM  

I'm interested in this book after your compelling description. I had such a wonderful relationship with my mother, but am always interested in reading about the dynamic of others who didn't. I will bring this up to my book club next month.

Ali B.

Zibilee 1/9/12, 12:21 PM  

I actually think a lot of readers will relate tot his story, and it seems very intriguing to me, to say the least. I am adding this to my wish list, and love the review that you shared on it today. Thanks!

Daryl 1/9/12, 1:43 PM  

Sometime this past weekend my friend and discussed how things were so very different back when we were kids .. how we managed to thrive w/o therapy and with mothers who smoked and drank while pregnant ..

Margot 1/9/12, 2:19 PM  

How beautiful is the writing in the quote you shared. A lot to think about there. I can see it would make a great group read.

Julie P. 1/9/12, 2:49 PM  

Sounds like a book that would be right up my alley.

caite 1/9/12, 2:58 PM  

I have seen a few mentions of this one recently and I must say it sounds good.

Uniflame 1/9/12, 5:45 PM  

I will add this to me read list :) Thanks!

Jessica Keener 1/9/12, 7:19 PM  

Thank you for choosing to review my novel. I love these comments b/c they address different facets of the story. It's an honor to see this interest from readers. Thanks, again.

Jenners 1/9/12, 9:07 PM  

Sounds promising. I like that it evokes a specific place and time.

Karen White 1/10/12, 9:56 AM  

Great review, so evocative of the books evocativeness :) On my TBR list now!

guest post blog 1/10/12, 10:36 AM  

Great review.Sounds good.

Unknown 1/10/12, 3:42 PM  

This is the first I've heard of it but it sounds wonderful. I'll have to make a point of getting this one.

Just Mom 1/11/12, 7:59 PM  

I had not heard of this one before but it sounds fascinating.

Kailana 1/11/12, 9:26 PM  

I have never heard of this book before but it sounds interesting. I will have to add it to my wish list!

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