I wanted to like it. Ever since I signed up for Goodreads and started entering their giveaways, I’ve dreamed of winning an advance copy of the next big thing. Like I would know the next big thing if it jumped up and bit me in the bum. Anyway, I wanted to win a good book. A book I liked. And I didn’t this time.
I feel an obligation to actually read and review the books I win because that’s why they give them away. And I want to be worthy of free books because, hey, free books. So I read it. And now I’m reviewing it, and I can only hope there’s some kind of literary karma that will pat me on the head when I’m done and allow that first edition Philosopher’s Stone to find its way to my collection.
The book is Night Swim by Jessica Keener. A teenage girl named Sarah somehow remains 16 (even though every other character grows up and moves on with their lives during the course of the book) and lives in a dysfunctional family in what my best guess tells me is the late 60’s. Oh, and her mom died.
The author attempts to be so flowery that she fails to develop both plot and characters. More attention is given to what the characters are wearing than to who they are. I didn’t find myself caring about any of them. At all. And events that could be catalysts (an uncle who asks Sarah to pose naked for him, her young brother grabbing hold of an electric fence at a zoo, even an abortion) fall flat because they are dealt with in a paragraph or two and then are never mentioned again. Most of the events left me wondering why they were included in the first place.
The difference between a truly good writer and the rest of the bunch is the ability to “show, not tell.” I grew increasingly frustrated as the author felt forced to explain everything that she had just shown me because even she seemed to realize she didn’t do so very clearly.
There are some unique phrases and expressions of thought, but they are awkwardly placed and the author just tries too hard. Metaphors are a dime a dozen, and very few of them are actually good. A ruthless editor might be able to weed out the phrases that are worth keeping and discard the rest.
Keener does not seem to have a grasp of her time period. The abortion was performed in a hospital a good five years before Roe v. Wade made it through the Supreme Court. A song she referred to as being from a “grandma radio station” would have been popular in Sarah’s childhood. A classmate was driving a make of car that wouldn’t be popular for a few more years. Sarah bought her own plane ticket and took a commuter flight a couple of decades before such things were available. There was just nothing solid here to hang onto.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I am just too dense to fully appreciate this book. My 14 year old offered to read it to see if she “gets” it, obviously doubting my abilities. I hope someone finds merit in the book. Every author should have their work appreciated by someone.