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On Sale: November 11, 2009
Pages: 384 | ISBN: 978-0-307-49153-4
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Twenty years ago, Vivian Silver abandoned her dreams of travel to marry the mysterious Jeb Wheeler, seduced both by his unnerving charm and his acres of untamed New Hampshire land. The hand-built house and swimming pond become the center of the universe for their entire family. Lila, their youngest, is consumed with love for her two older brothers, Aaron and Jack, and remains blind to the simmering tension between them. For beneath the surface of their idyllic setting lies a depth of explosive feeling that none of them can control.

Into this heated atmosphere glides Aaron’s girlfriend, Suzanne, whose presence is threatening, exciting; Lila thrills to the ominous quality of Aaron’s absolute adoration for this young woman. Before her visit is over, Suzanne will unleash the forces of rage between Aaron and Jack, compelling one brother to commit an act against the other that can never be taken back.
A decade later, living in New York, Lila still searches for Aaron, who disappeared that night, and Suzanne, whose mystique still exerts a hold on her memory. For Lila to move past her family’s tragedy, she must piece together what happened that fateful weekend–and recover the things lost down by the water–before she can at last let them go.

A stunning literary novel that captures the lingering effects of longing and loss, Swimming is by turns a gripping family story, a heartbreaking coming of age journey, and a suspenseful psychological investigation into the meaning and limits of fidelity, identity, and intimacy.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

1966

There is no such thing as silence in the woods. Vivian Silver trusted
this, as she followed the man she'd met only hours ago down the pine-dark
path of his property. She watched his lean figure and became hypnotized by
his uneven gait, the majesty of his long narrow back. He hadn't once
turned around to make sure that she'd kept up, and this did not surprise
her. Just as she knew that there was no such thing as silence in the
woods, she also somehow trusted that as carefully as she was watching him,
he was listening even more carefully for her quick footfalls and the
high-pitched swish of her navy blue windbreaker. She could feel him
listening, and that was good enough.

She walked on and heard skitters of invisible creatures, the wind through
the thinning pines. There was a sense of clarity that accompanied the
quiet, and this was something Vivian already knew to look for in a man.
When one held back from her, she couldn't help but pay attention.
The path finally opened up into a clearing, and because the sun had just
set, the land-his land-was the darkest of greens, a shade brought on by
October in New Hampshire when the day holds on to the richness of color
even when light is gone.

There in the distance, just as he'd promised, was a pond.

She couldn't quite see the water. He was blocking her view with his body,
but she could smell the wet sand and fallen leaves, the swampy, reedy
darkness. And although it was unquestionably autumn, Vivian could feel the
brazen heat of summer, the lovely shock of a dive. She could also hear the
slice of blades on ice, the scrape and shriek of skating. On sensing this
body of water, she briefly forgot why she was here. Then a distinct shift
took place inside of her as he placed his hand-as if he'd done so
countless times-under her long tangled hair. He still hadn't said a word.
Here was a feeling both thrilling and disappointing, as if someone had
just informed her that the world was about to end. Her neck was cold and
his hand was warm. It was the first time they had touched.


Vivian was saving money to sail away to Spain. She was substitute teaching
and writing poetry while staying with her brother Aaron. That night Aaron
sent her to Cal's Bar, where he knew the bartender. Aaron knew a lot of
bartenders for someone
who didn't drink. He knew everybody in Portsmouth. Only months later,
having decided not to go to Canada, he would
die a reluctant private in a Vietnam helicopter accident; the funeral in
their Massachusetts hometown would be so crowded that his pregnant sister
wouldn't recognize half of the people there. Her first son would be his
namesake. She would name him Aaron and pray, like any mother, that he
would not die young.

But she knew none of this that evening, when she sat alone at Cal's Bar,
drinking a bottle of beer. She had been aware of Jeb Wheeler's presence
since he'd walked through the door in worn jeans, a workshirt, and a red
down vest. She guessed he was at least thirty-five. He was very tall and
thin with a long crooked nose, full lips, and arresting green eyes. It was
his eyes that
she noticed first. There was something wrong with them. She tried not to
stare as he sat down beside her and ordered a rare hamburger. She tried
not to stare but soon became acutely aware that he was the one who was
staring. And he wasn't shy about it either.

"Hello," he said.

"Oh, hi." She smiled and looked into his eyes that were strange. As one
moved normally in the socket, the other stayed quite still. While his
pupils were the same light green color
and were framed by the same long dark lashes, the left eye appeared to be
made of glass. It was foreign and would stay foreign. She'd never quite
get used to it.

"I've never been here," she said, just to say something.

But he wasn't like that. He kept on looking at her and smiling. Finally he
said, "Well, I'm glad you're here now."

She told him what there was to tell about herself, how she'd graduated
from college and was leaving for Spain in the springtime. She tried to
keep it brief and ended up drinking her beer too quickly. He didn't ask
many questions and the ones he did ask were blunt: Why Spain? What will
you do for money once you're there? Have you noticed my eye yet?

He had lived in New York City and worked as a chemist. In
a slightly suspect explanation of how he'd ended up here-
looking like a lumberjack or possibly a carpenter-Vivian learned that he
had sold something, a patent of sorts, and that he had quit his job.

"What do you do now?" she asked, leaning into him, not completely aware
she was doing so. She could smell woodsmoke on his clothes, the faint
toxic smell of varnish.

"Well," he said, smiling, as if he somehow wasn't quite sure what to say,
"I bought land. I bought some fine land, and I've been building myself a
house."

"Where is it?" Vivian asked. She pictured herself on top of him on a spare
iron bed, being cold and even lonely and asking him to build a fire. She
didn't bother trying to stop fantasizing. She knew herself better than
that.

"It's about forty-five minutes from here," he said, and raised his
eyebrows. "Kind of out there." He gave her a look as if to say, I dare you.
When he was through with his burger, they left together. He opened the
passenger door of his truck for her.

He said, "You don't need to worry; I'm not very dangerous."
Until that moment, the thought hadn't crossed her mind.


And now they were in a forest clearing between his half-built house and
the pond. Pine needles covered the loamy ground, and sycamores framed the
sky. They weren't looking at each other. As he moved his hand very gently
along the back of
her pale neck, she found she was straining to see the pond-
over his shoulder, beyond the trees-as if to see the black-green water
would be to inhabit the sense of certainty that she knew water created.
But from where she stood, the water was not much more than a ghost in the
trees watching and assessing this union.

Vivian reached out to touch him, letting him know right away where she
stood. Under the down vest, his denim shirt was hot. She rested her hand
there as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

"Beautiful," she finally said. The trees moved so slightly. The sky was
full of stars.

"You are," he told her, and, taking her pale face in his two rough hands,
he kissed her.

A kiss can be as minuscule as a moth or the tiny flame it craves, a torn
fingernail or an eyelash; and yet a kiss can be huge. It can be as
expansive and dangerous as this one was. It can be the origin of a family.
They kissed softly and tenderly at first, and then things
got rougher. As the clear sky became clearer and darker, they grabbed hold
of each other's clothing. They kissed hard, almost bitterly, as if they
resented their mutual attraction.

They were both impatient people. They'd wage battles against impatience
all their lives, but not tonight. Tonight they did exactly what they
wanted.

They didn't even make it to the house. Without any debate, she lay down on
the cold damp grass. She wasn't taking birth control pills and he didn't
use a rubber, and-as if it were a dream and she was using dream logic-she
found she knew exactly what she was doing without any fear of
consequences.

Vivian watched for the pond over his shoulder but couldn't see a thing;
the promise of a pond sat under the moon and stared at her boldly,
watching her gasp for breath. She thought of Spain with a kind of
nostalgia: it seemed smaller than before and awfully far away. She said
goodbye to Cordoba and Sevilla, adios to flamenco and paella.
He breathed in her ear and she kissed his long, stubbled neck.
"I can't believe we just did that," he told her. But she knew that he was
lying.


"Let me show you the house," Jeb said, after gently taking her hand in his
and heading for the path. When he kissed her again, she felt a surge of
greed and strained to see the water. "What?" he asked.

He was close to her, leaning down to see her face. She could smell the
varnish and the brackish smell of his sweat. It was purely carnal and she
backed away from him-head tilted, coy-as if she had a secret.

"What?" he repeated.

She retreated some more-a come-and-catch-me set of eyes, an attempt at a
wicked smile. The water was so close just beyond the stand of trees and
weeds, and-with a toss of her hair, having barely a notion of what she was
doing-she ran.

As she expected, he did not run after her. Vivian was now free to get as
near to the water as possible, to trample over the fallen wet reeds and
feel her boots sink into the sand. The wind blew and the pond came to her,
slowly lapped at her boot toes in a lazy, ancient rhythm. The moon shone
down in a harsh slant, casting the pond as particularly separate from the
soil and the trees and from her. She felt younger out here in this untamed
space, and-as if she were being watched, as if the pond itself were
judging her-she stood up straighter as she surveyed the landscape. She
took a deep clean breath.

Jagged rocks began a few yards to her left. Smooth slabs framed the water,
flat as if they'd been carefully beaten down. Dried-out grass stood tall,
interspersed with endless weeds.

She wouldn't have changed a thing.

The pond wore its surroundings like careless attire, as if to protect its
luminous beauty. Its surface shimmered, innocent of the forest's tall
shadows or the mountains' cranky terrain. The water divulged nothing, and
she couldn't help but bend down and touch it with her fingertips. It felt
brutally cold, and she put her fingers in her mouth at once, sucking back
some comfort from herself. Vivian gazed at the water and there it was-her
reflected self, round as an infant but twice the size. Then, quick as
lightning, the distorted shape was gone as a dark cloud shrouded the moon.
Here was where she would make her life. Over years to come she would swim
and sunbathe, take walks with Jeb and the children, take time alone with
her thoughts. She would eat potluck meals here, engaging in terrific
conversations with neighbors who would move away. And later in life, after
drinking too much, she would come straight to the slabs of rock by the
water's edge and she would sit-her mouth parted, too tired for
wonder-staring at the water for hours.

This was where her future would unfold. Later she'd say she knew it right
then and without a single doubt. She would tell her sons and daughter that
she just knew it, the same way she knew that Spain was only a single
country on so many maps of the world.


From the Hardcover edition.
Joanna Hershon|Author Q&A

About Joanna Hershon

Joanna Hershon - Swimming

Photo © Michael Epstein

Joanna Hershon is the author Swimming and The Outside of August. Her short fiction has been published in One Story and The Virginia Quarterly Review. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the painter Derek Buckner, and their twin sons.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Joanna Hershon

Nicholas Delbanco
is the Robert Frost Collegiate Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. He directs the Hopwood Awards Program and the MFA Program in Creative Writing there. The author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, his most recent novel is called What Remains, and his most recent book of nonfiction is The Countess of Stanlein Restored.

Nicholas Delbanco: Where did the idea for this novel first arise, and can you talk a bit about the process of composition?

Joanna Hershon: The beginning of the process, as far as I can remember, began in two ways: one rather practical, and the other more mysterious. Firstly, the practical: by the time I was in my early twenties I'd written a slew of short stories and poetry and two plays, and up until that point, with most of the pieces I'd written--even if I didn't feel they ultimately worked, which was usually the case-- I thought I'd learned something and I moved on. When I began thinking about writing a novel, I was struck by a story and a short play I'd written and how both of those pieces, which on the surface were unrelated, didn't feel finished and, more importantly, still compelled me. I sat with the two pieces and thought hard about them, figuring out what they had in common, and I began very quickly to have an idea for a novel, an idea that took on a life of its own.

The more mysterious and no less important beginning of this process was an image I'd had for a long time--I can't remember how long. The image was that of a pond in the middle of the night and a young man swimming alone, across the pond and back, the night before something big--something important and dark--was about to happen. There was this feeling that accompanied the image: a heavy foreboding, some kind of hubris, and a story began developing from there.

ND: Did you have a model in mind for this book? Was it improvised in terms of structure? Did it always, for example, move chronologically?

JH: The development of Swimming did, in fact, unfold chronologically. Sometimes the writing was so dependent on the order of events that it was almost frustrating for me. For instance, when I was about midway through the novel, a fiction workshop teacher advised me to write some scenes from late in the novel when Lila and Aaron meet in Ann Arbor--just to get a sense for myself of how it would go. I found that I could not experience the scenes before my characters were ready, so to speak. They weren't there yet, and in consequence neither was I.

While these and many other aspects of creating Swimming felt difficult, I found that--especially once I had faith in the structural possibility--my characters were able to truly emerge. At the same time, as I suppose is always the case, I came to believe in the structural possibility only as my characters became strong enough to sustain it. I wrote the whole novel in a linear fashion. Try as I may, I am never able to write scenes from further in a book than where my characters have progressed, even if I know where they need to end up. I loved writing the characters in this book, getting to know their many flaws, and having compassion for everybody's myriad mistakes. I think the brief years between being a teenager and being twenty-something is a really interesting time, a time when (depending, of course, on where, in what part of society, etc.) there seems to be a window of opportunity before true adulthood kicks in. That window closes abruptly on Aaron and Suzanne because of the tragedy that occurs, and I enjoyed catching up with them in their early thirties, seeing just how much can happen in ten years, and how what happened defines both of their lives in very different ways.

ND: Is there any conscious echo of the Cain and Abel story here, or of Suzanne as a mythic temptress and destroyer of men (her last name is, after all, Wolfe); you're writing of primal experience, death and rebirth--the pond with which the tale begins, the lake at which it ends. I think of Conrad's famous phrase, "In the destructive element immerse" and wonder how much of Swimming was engendered by that image of the dark water itself.

JH: I certainly didn't set out to write an interpretation of Cain and Abel, but I was very aware as I created this story that I was investigating prototypes--the good brother and bad brother, the vixen, the love triangle-- and I was and still am very interested in finding the details within prototypes, and how a person's self-perception is often different than the roles they're subtly or not-so-subtly assigned by their family or society. I think I gravitate equally toward the extremes of Greek drama as well as toward the painstaking realism of Chekhov. I'm constantly struggling with a balance of light and dark, where to pull back and where to let loose while creating drama. And, yes, the visual image of the dark and murky pond played a large role in the genesis of this story. The water is so much weightier and greater than any individual story, and that primordial image pervaded my imagination and gave ballast to the rising conflicts among the characters.

ND: In many ways this book is about shape-shifters, false identity, actors playing parts. Can you be specific about the way your experience of theatre, both as an actress and a playwright, structured scenes and themes? Did you hear the dialogue, for instance? Do you imagine how your characters might move as if onstage?

JH: I get very involved with my characters, experiencing them in a way that feels very similar to acting, which I did for many years and I think definitely affects the way I approach a story. I know I inhabit my characters as if I were approaching them as characters to a play, and I definitely hear dialogue and envision scenes in terms of choreography. When writing a scene I tend to find myself thinking: what does this character want? I always return back to motivation and how, specifically, one character as opposed to another character tries to achieve their desires. What are people's little tricks? Where is someone's confidence and where is his or her insecurity? Are they ever one and the same and do they ever really alter? I'm also interested in expressing how people perceive themselves as opposed to the way others perceive them, and how the gap between intention and action can be so much greater than any individual can see at any given time.

The book is, I agree, very much about shape-shifters. I think the youth of the characters has a great deal to do with how prominently role-playing figures into the story's progression. All of these characters at one point or another are seeing who they are, or, perhaps more accurately, who they might or might not like to become. Writing allows us to manage time, to slow life down or speed it up. We can see the seed of conflict growing, and no matter how large or small the particular conflict is, it's exciting to trace the steps and examine how we get there, how and why a moment can explode. . . .

ND: Talk a bit about your sympathy for these not-always sympathetic characters. Do you approve of Jeb's aloofness, for example, or Suzanne's attempted seduc-tion of Jack--or does the question of "approval" even enter in? The one character in Swimming who seems to have all the right instincts is Ben, and is the fact that he's a foreigner germane? Are you commenting in any way on the drug and dropout culture here, or is it simply the surrounding circumstances--the landscape through which these people move?

JH: I can't say that my approval or disapproval of characters enters explicitly into my writing. I try to approach writing characters by being them, and it's the rare person who truly thinks he's a bad guy, and most people think they have great taste. If I can find a character's motivation then I can find his or her humanity, and I think this is where the most interesting conflicts arise: both in a person's capacity for kindness and their underbelly of ugliness and shame. People's vulnerabilities are often at odds, laying a fertile ground for humiliation.

As for Ben having all the right instincts and being a foreigner, I didn't decide on his nationality with any symbolic logic. I do think, however, he represents pure hope for Lila, and I wanted him to be as foreign to her reality as possible while at the same time being quite comforting. Ben was a character who arrived on the page fully formed. I think of him as a gift.

How the drug and dropout culture played a part in this family's life was something I started out the novel being quite aware of, but as I began to get further into the story, the precariousness of any family regardless of time or lifestyle took over as a concern. I did want to evoke enough of a careless feeling in the family to inspire a vague panic, and Jeb's smoky emotional and actual absence from the household served to usher in some instability. Any tragedy provokes an examination of what could have happened differently. The Wheelers' literal and emotional landscape happened to have been born of a certain renegade sensibility in which both beauty and disillusionment figure greatly. I think, however, the same can be said about nostalgia of any kind--not just the late-sixties variety.

ND: In some ways this novel borrows from the tradition of the Bildungsroman--a tale of "growing up." Lila at story's end has put her past behind her and is facing forward, driving west. What has she learned about the past that permits her ghosts to rest?

JH: Part Two is indeed a coming-of-age tale, and Lila is able to grow up and move on when she not only understands but also experiences the characters of her past as not merely characters or ghosts, but as human beings, ultimately very fallible.

ND: This is the kind of "thriller" in which we know what happens early on, and the real mystery involves the working out of a solution--how Lila's mission will end. Were you ever tempted to render this a more conventional mystery or, in technical terms, stick to a single witness and limited point of view? Because you move from character to character, the reader gains an overview and a kind of collective perspective. Did you have this in mind from the start?

JH: My instinct was to have the most action-packed, pivotal drama of the book happen quite early on because I've always been interested in the suspense of not necessarily the event and what happened but what it meant to the characters involved. I wanted the reader to care about the people involved enough to follow the survivors of the main event, and enough to go beyond the action and into the reaction.

There were many voices along the way that encouraged me to make Swimming more of a traditional mystery, employing more conventional suspense (what happened on that fateful night?) and I did try to do it that way. Eventually, however, I realized it wasn't the book I wanted or needed to write. I wanted the readers to directly experience all the prurience and violence of the main event but to have the innocent one, Lila, not experience it directly but be haunted by its aftermath. My challenge was whether or not readers would care enough about Lila, identify with her so much that they'd be willing to go on another journey--her journey. Ultimately, this book was always supposed to be her journey and I wanted readers to go wherever Lila took them. I tried many different ways of telling the story, but it wasn't until my last semester in graduate school (a year and a half after starting the book) that I actually believed I could tell the story the way I'd originally intended and that all I'd written thus far (basically Part One and initial stabs at Part Two) wasn't going to have to be scrapped.

I had a difficult time with perspective: who has what information? Whose minds do I allow the readers into in order to tell the story in the best and most interesting way? How do I sculpt and shape the story? I sacrificed all kinds of interesting characters and smaller story lines in order to serve the narrative better, and that was always difficult to do--to find what was essential and extract it from what dragged the book down. The collective perspective was always intended. In fact, I began with additional points of view in Part One, but eventually reduced them to those of Aaron and Suzanne.

ND: Swimming has very particularized geography. The book divides itself almost equally between New Hampshire, New York, and Ann Arbor. Beyond the accident of prior personal familiarity with these places--and their usefulness as contrasting locales--is there anything specific these three settings represent?

JH: In terms of the novel's geographies, each place comprises its own little universe with its own set of rules. Part One in New Hampshire is, or so I hope, rather timeless and elemental within the surroundings of the path, the woods, the pond. New York, by contrast, is certainly all about the moment, specifically the possibilities inherent in every moment of being among so many people from countless different places. New York is a Pandora's box of stories. To choose to live there, at least for Lila, is to lift the lid.

ND: New York has many millions of citizens and Ann Arbor more than a hundred thousand; Lila's quest leads her unerringly, however, to Suzanne and Aaron (as David Silver). In what way does Pria's sense that this is fate and not coincidence mirror your own? Do you have, I mean, a personal conviction that "things are maybe more connected than we can ever know," as Pria puts it on pg. 223?

JH: I do not have a personal conviction, as Pria does, that everything is tied together and that paths are ultimately preordained. But I certainly do believe in the mysterious, and I have experienced enough of it to want to dramatize life without the constraints of "what are the odds?" Lila enters an ever-increasing, heightened state of awareness, and I do believe that this nearly feverish take on reality can tend to blur what one should or shouldn't do. Sometimes this behavior or energy can invite some strange circumstances indeed. As a writer, however, I am in no such feverish state, and I could have chosen to make Lila's search for her brother "more realistic." But I wasn't really interested in doing so.

As a writer, the crafting of the book was like solving a mystery, figuring out for myself how to make the missing years--the years that the readers don't witness--show up in the characters. Pria is a character that brings to mind both that kind of profound yet subtle change over time; the experience of writing her character very directly informed the plot. I originally needed a way to get Aaron, Suzanne, and Jack out of the house, and I thought Pria would simply be a minor figure hosting a party, but then I wrote a chapter through her point of view. I thought it would be interesting and helpful to step outside of the Aaron-Suzanne-Jack triangle and get an outsider's perspective, and when I did, a whole world opened up to me. Pria became an integral part of the story. She became not only another woman for Lila to seek and find and (as she can't help but do) compare to Suzanne, but also, very importantly, Pria be-came a character who embodies the capacity for change and redemption (no matter how small, and even a little bit comical), which is, I think, an important aspect of the tale.

ND: What, if anything, would you change in this book?

JH: I don't know that I would change much about Swimming. I see the book as an old friend--a friend from whom I might have grown somewhat apart and with whom I may not always agree all the time, but whom I value for their individuality.

Praise

Praise

"Joanna Hershon has a gift for choreographing a group of characters in space and in time. She is persuasive with moments of sexual passion, and she knows how to make them last for the reader long after the lovemaking is over. In her novel, the past pulses in the present, and we experience these lives with real sorrow, and real hope."
–Frederick Busch, bestselling author of Girls and The Night Inspector:

"Reading Joanna Hershon’s Swimming is like diving in over your head– intoxicating and terrifying at once. Not since Jane Hamilton’s Map of the World have I read such an affecting tale of memory and loss. I couldn’t put it down."
–Sheri Holman, bestselling author of The Dress Lodger



From the Hardcover edition.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. What does the title suggest, and what varieties of "swimming" are involved in the action? How does the swim at the story's start contrast with the plunge at the end?

2. Do the three epigraphs (from Marilynne Robinson, Emily Dickinson, and Martin Buber) constitute a kind of progression for the three parts? How does Dickinson's phrase in particular--"The truth must dazzle gradually"--describe the story line?

3. Twenty-one years elapse between the action of the Prologue and Part One, and ten years elapse between Part One and Two. Parts Two and Three, however, are directly sequential. What is the author telling us about the presence of the past and the healing passage of time?

4. Can you come up with reasons for the brothers' sibling rivalry? Why are they so angry with each other, and is Suzanne a kind of lightning rod for the trouble that erupts between them, or is she the trouble itself?

5. What motivates Pria's behavior? In what ways does she change between the first and second time we meet her, and do you feel she's trying to atone for her actions at the party and on the night of Jack's death? 6. The same question could well be asked of Suzanne. How sympathetic is the author to this character/ seductress? Why is it, do you think, that she's willing to acknowledge Lila during that first meeting in New York?

7. Both Lila and Aaron have the habit of calling their parents and then hanging up. What does this tell us about the nature of communication in the Wheeler clan?

8. We know what's under Sylvie's bed and what the red box contains. What would Aaron (as David Silver) have of hers under his own bed?

9. In what ways is this a time-bound piece (describing the nature of the counter-culture in the 1980s, the drug culture in the 1990s, etc.), and in what ways does the family dynamic exist outside of a specific time and place?

10. Imagine Swimming as a set of linked short stories or as a movie or play. What would be gained and what lost?

11. Why does Lila disguise herself as Abby in her brother's house? What causes her to come out of hiding and reveal herself at last?

12. Is it realistic that a brother would not know his sister after a decade of growth? And why should Lila recognize a woman she's seen only once, when she herself was eight years old at the time, and who now has spent ten years thereafter in New York City?

13. Describe a day in 1967 in which Jeb and Vivian Wheeler are alone in the house he has built and to which she moves when they're first married. Describe the same day in 1997 when they are alone in the house once more--with one of their three children dead and the other two away.

14. Imagine the visit to Portsmouth from Ben's point of view. Why does he get so angry at Lila when she says she needs to run an errand by herself?

15. Imagine the scene when Suzanne returns to her husband after she tells Lila what happened on the fateful night in 1987. What does she tell Richard and how does he respond?

16. If this novel had been told in the first person, who would be its likely narrator and why?

17. In what ways does the scene of the party at the lake outside Ann Arbor (Part Three) repeat what happened at the party in the Wheelers' pond (Part One)? Look for variations on the theme and what those changes might mean.

18. "The water was blue and the sky was pink and the trees flourishing green. 'Are you okay?' she said. He said he was full of awe." This climactic moment at the end of Chapter Twenty-five is a scene of rebirth and redemption, clearly. To what extent is it also, in the formal sense, religious? Is Aaron's time in Israel and his shelf of Biblical texts directly relevant here?

19. What will happen when Aaron goes home and arrives at the house once again?

20. These were nineteen questions. Formulate twenty more.


  • Swimming by Joanna Hershon
  • June 25, 2002
  • Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $14.00
  • 9780345442765

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