The Swimmers; Julie Otsuka
Knopf - 2022
The Swimmers is a very short novel at fewer than 200 pages and, it is a most unique kind of story.
The story begins with a group of swimmers, all regulars who frequent a community type underground pool (picture a fitness club or YMCA). These swimmers are obsessed with their routines and find swimming as a way of forgetting their troubles. For an hour or so each day swimming helps them to cope with everyday life. There is a set of unspoken rules among the regulars and as they admit, swimming is their addiction of choice. It's when the pool closes for 10 days each August that the swimmers must face their real lives and deal with neglected families and issues at home. Oddly, each of the swimmers ,with the exception of Alice remains unnamed. We do learn that Alice is a retired lab technician and she is also forgetful.
One day a crack appears in the pool, yet no water is escaping. The inspectors are at a loss and agree that the cause may never be found. Each of the swimmers thinks there is some significance to the crack and even that it is bad luck to swim over it. Then one day, the bad news arrives, the pool management announces the pool will be closing for good. Alice, however, is allowed to swim an extra lap and forget her troubles for a bit longer.
Next there is a rather abrupt change in story line in which the focus switches to Alice and the story takes a more serious turn. This section is narrated by her daughter as her mother slips deeper into dementia and eventually must prepare for a move to a memory type care facility. We learn much about Alice's past, as well as most every detail about what goes on in a memory care facility.
This was not just a story about obsessed swimmers, it was a touching mother-daughter story as well. It seemed very personal, perhaps at least in part, based on the author's own experience with her mother. The writing is both unique and beautiful with realistic and touching moments. There seemed to be a clear message about not postponing all the things that you have been meaning to do or people you've wanted to spend time with - tomorrow, next month or next year are not guaranteed. This is the second book I've read by this author, she has a different style which I very much enjoy.
Rating - 4.5/5 stars
Thanks go to Knopf Publishing and Edelweiss for allowing me access to the eGalley in exchange for my unbiased review.