I think this book is going to be the When We Were Strangers of my online book club — I read it, it was okay, I’m already forgetting it just days later.
Swimming was selected by a couple of members to interrupt our highly sophisticated (read: barely existent) book selection queue, on account of it’s a book about the Olympics and I hear the U.S. may have brought home some large shiny pendants lately. It was also apparently blurbed by Judy Blume, whose books I must admit to having never read, and granted lavish praise by dozens of others, so the rest of us were like, sure, okay, let’s read that.
Problem One: This book is not about the Olympics. This book is barely about anything, so I guess if it has to be about something, it could be the Olympics. But for all that the main character is this wunderkind natural-born gold-medal-winning swimmer, the actual Olympics take up like ten pages, and even the training for the Olympics is maybe fifty more. The other two hundred and some pages are… something else.
Problem Two: I don’t know what that something else is.
We decided during our discussion that this book was kind of sort of maybe like a fictional memoir. The narrator, Philomena, basically tells her life story, from her first swimming lesson as a tiny person to her sister’s death to the Olympics to the aftermath of Olympic glory. But it’s not quite a memoir, because Philomena doesn’t seem to want to talk about anything interesting or important. And when you get to the end, you can kind of see why that might be, and I’ll begrudgingly allow it. This is definitely a book that is more about the how of the writing than the what.
But in the end, Problem One really clouds my whole judgment of this book, because I spent the whole time waiting for the awesome Olympics stuff to show up and it just refused. All those people lavishing praise on the book probably went in expecting your typical literary fiction offering, and I can recognize the ways in which the book would have been interesting if I had been, you know, reading the book in my hand instead of the one in my head.
Recommendation: Forget you read this review, forget that I said the word Olympics, and come back to this book in, like, a year. And let me know what you think!