• Palmer Smith

Book Review: The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

176 pages, published by Alfred A. Knopf.

This is a genuine and deeply probing novel. It reminds me quite a bit of The Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill in terms of its style. There are both negative and positive aspects to this short, poetic prose. On the one hand, it makes the novel easier to read in many aspects, but on the other hand, at times, the book feels disjointed. This may also be because the book is split into five different sections (often without smooth transitions) and there are different points of view being explored. The first half of the book deals largely with the tight-knit community that swims in a pool almost every single day. It taps into each person’s routines and discusses why each person enjoys/needs to swim. This section was stunningly written, and it made me feel a sense of belonging to this community as a spectator. When Otsuka writes about the pool, I am reminded of the summers of my childhood when I would often spend hours in the pool/ocean, admiring the shapes of light bouncing through the water. In the next section, disaster strikes. Cracks are found at the bottom of the pool–and soon enough, the community is worried that the pool will no longer exist. As we enter the second half of the book, a different voice comes in--that of Alice's daughter. We learn about the mother-daughter relationship, and the book begins to hone in more on Alice. Alice has Alzheimer’s, and she was an active member of the pool community. The last few sections of the novel give us insight into “Belavista," the memory-care facility where Alice now lives. There are small bits of hope in this otherwise heartbreaking section. “At least she can still tell the time,” Otsuka writes. Because the subject of Alzheimer's hits pretty close to home (which is strictly a personal reason-it was emotionally strenuous to read those sections) and because of the somewhat confusing organization of the book, I am giving it four stars. All in all, reading this novel almost put me into a meditative state. The sentences almost mimic the peacefulness of swimming itself. I will 100% be reading more of her work. Thank you, Julie.

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