Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 192 pages
First Published: 2022
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Knopf. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
A group of daily swimmers is thrown for a loop when a crack appears in the swimming pool they frequent. Among them is Alice, who is slowly losing herself to dementia. With her daily routine broken, Alice feels thrust into chaos as her childhood memories of being in a Japanese internment camp surface, and her daughter struggles to help her.
First off, I don’t think you can actually call The Swimmers a novel because it is so extremely short. I guess you would categorize Otsuka’s novella as experimental fiction. The story is mostly told in an odd second-person format that takes some getting used to. I was set to give it a disappointing two stars, but Otsuka’s descriptions of Alice’s entrance into a memory care facility struck home for me, especially when I realized that Alice is the author’s mother.
A novel about what happens to a group of obsessed recreational swimmers when a crack appears at the bottom of their local pool—a tour de force of economy, precision, and emotional power.
The swimmers are unknown to one another except through their private routines (slow lane, medium lane, fast lane) and the solace each takes in their morning or afternoon laps. But when a crack appears at the bottom of the pool, they are cast out into an unforgiving world without comfort or relief.
One of these swimmers is Alice, who is slowly losing her memory. For Alice, the pool was a final stand against the darkness of her encroaching dementia. Without the fellowship of other swimmers and the routine of her daily laps she is plunged into dislocation and chaos, swept into memories of her childhood and the Japanese American incarceration camp in which she spent the war. Alice’s estranged daughter, reentering her mother’s life too late, witnesses her stark and devastating decline. Written in spellbinding, incantatory prose, The Swimmers is a searing, intimate story of mothers and daughters, and the sorrows of implacable loss: the most commanding and unforgettable work yet from a modern master.