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Swim Back to Me (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – Unabridged, April 3, 2012

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Swim Back to Me (Vintage Contemporaries) + Mendocino and Other Stories + Songs Without Words (Vintage Contemporaries)
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140007973X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400079735
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #714,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Packer's sterling collection is framed by two novellas. In the opener, "Walk for Mankind," teenager Richard Appleby describes his bittersweet relationship with Sasha Horowitz, a rebellious, risk-taking 14-year-old, who has a clandestine affair with a drug dealer. Sasha's behavior is a reaction to her controlling and hyper-charming father, an English professor who's spiraling downward professionally and personally. "Things Said or Done" is set three decades later, when Sasha, now 51 and divorced, has become Richard's caretaker, forced to deal with his self-destructive, narcissistic personality while recognizing the ways in which they are alike. Packer's talents are evident in these psychologically astute novellas, and also in the stories in between. "Molten" conveys a mother's grief over her adolescent son's senseless death; "Dwell Time" features a protagonist's happy second marriage—until her husband disappears. In the affecting "Her First Born," a new father finally understands his wife's attachment to the memory of her first child, who died. The only misstep is "Jump," whose lead character, a rich man's son who fakes an underprivileged background to work in a photocopy shop, lacks credibility. Packer (The Dive from Clausen's Pier) presents complex human relationships with unsentimental compassion. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“Stunning. . . . Packer can break your heart—and she can mend it, too. ” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“A tour de force. . . . With this collection, Ann Packer takes her place among today’s best authors of literary fiction.” —The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“[Packer’s] patient investigations reveal human longing in such clear, stripped-down familiarity—never shirking from the difficult—that readers experience a singular sense of comfort.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Exhilarating. . . . Searing. . . . [Packer’s] stories brim with piercing vitality and clear-eyed believability.” —The Washington Post
Packer paints these lives with full and compassionate brush strokes.” —The New York Times Book Review
“As audacious, imaginative and poignant as any of [Packer’s] previous work. . . . Packer can compress a lifetime of hope and sorrow in a short story, and in a brief paragraph can suggest the unspoken language of marriage and family.” —The Miami Herald
“Wonderful. . . . [A] lovely, masterful collection.” —The Boston Globe

“Ann Packer’s Swim Back to Me reminded me of why I fell in love with literature in the first place. Upon closing the book, I thought, ‘I’ll read this again’. . . . Packer’s stories stick with you.” —Susan Baleé, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Packer . . . is a master at getting to the heart of characters struggling on in the face of loss. . . . Swim Back to Me is best enjoyed for Packer’s sharply focused snapshots of people at pivotal points in their lives, a focus so intense that we can feel as if we’re spying on them. ” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“[Beginning] Packer’s stories feels as nonchalant as stepping into a puddle but results in a sudden plunge into deep water. . . . Potent and deftly written.”  —Dallas Morning News
“An author who speaks with her full voice. . . . The people in Packer’s stories are so possible and so familiar, reading about them is like flipping through a photo album with someone you’ve always known.” —San Francisco magazine
“Anyone intrigued by the ways we both fail and save one another will find ample food for thought here.” —People
“Deeply engrossing. . . . Illuminates the instant, in the darkest hour of grief, when the heart opens wider than ever before—and shows us a new way of being.” —More
“Gripping. . . . A stunning look into how we learn and sometimes fail to live with each other.” —The Daily Beast
“Touching, tender and true.” —The Austin American Statesman
“Utterly readable. . . . Ann Packer has a talent for creating authentic, absorbing characters.” —Ladies Home Journal
 “A keen observer of family dynamics. . . . Packer the novelist is equally adept at the short form.” —The Oakland Tribune
“Packer’s descriptions of what crisis looks like from the inside out are almost always word-perfect.” —Toledo Blade
“Subtle, deeply personal. . . . [An] excellent collection.” —Bookreporter.com
“Powerful . . . satisfying. . . . Packer’s characters are fully developed with emotions that feel authentic.” —BookPage

More About the Author

Ann Packer is the author of two bestselling novels, Songs Without Words (2007) and The Dive from Clausen's Pier (2002), and two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me (2011) and Mendocino and Other Stories (1994). She lives in northern California.

Customer Reviews

Ann Packer's newest book, Swim Back to Me, is comprised of a novella and five short stories.
Bonnie Brody
The stories in this collection are connected by Packer's superb use of language and her ability to bring a character to life.
What I found in "Swim Back To Me" was a wonderful set of interesting, moving, and well written stories.
Mary Lins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By E. Burian-Mohr TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Swim Back to Me" is Ann Packer's new collection, featuring a novella and short stories. I am not usually a fan of short stories (I always want more), and Packer's structuring of the book satisfied that urge. Others have synopsized the 6 pieces, so I won't be redundant. Instead, here are the top ten things that are great about "Swim Back to Me."

10. Having spent my high school years in Palo Alto, in the late 60s, her descriptions of the place and time were spot-on. She captured the high schoolers trying to blend in with the Stanford students, the geography, the different areas of the town, the feel of the seasons, and the often effete snobbery of the professorial families. When she described an Eichler house, I knew I had been transported back in time.

9. Packer has conceived great characters, from angst-ridden teens to grieving mothers to narcissistic fathers to new fathers and loud-mouthed partners. Everyone in the stories has a unique personality with unique quirks.

8. Having just finished a book in which the death of an infant turned a family to a lifetime of alcoholism and despair, it was refreshing to see a woman move on after such an event, still cherish her lost baby, but move forward to love her new infant. I needed to hear that this was possible.

7. Best/worst description of a bladder infection. I hadn't read that before.

6. There are characters that come out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, yet stand out like jewels in the narrative: a man along the Walk for Mankind route, a mother of the bride with a To Do list that includes meditation for all the guests. These are the characters that keep stories from feeling contrived.

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Red Rock Bookworm TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I could probably give a quick synopsis of Ann Packer's latest offering SWIM BACK TO ME in five words...."it's about pain and loss". The pain involved is both physical and emotional and the loss is about every conceivable type of loss that leaves a gaping void in ones life from the loss of one's childhood, to the loss of a friend, a child, a spouse, a life-style, an unfulfilled dream....well you get the idea.

While the author's writing style initially pulls you into each of the six stories it does not compensate for the unfulfilled feeling you get as a reader. There is truly no satisfactory resolution to any of the scenarios. It is as if the author were writing in her diary and relating events from her personal life experiences.......short little vignettes that unfold with no true beginning or end. Perhaps the reason Packer chose SWIM BACK TO ME as the title of her book is because the reader is left swimming in a sea of questions and must make it back to shore (and solutions) without any assistance from the writer. Guess that this reader is in dire need of some additional swimming lessons.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mary Lins TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It is my practice to try not to read too much about a book (back covers, fly-leafs, detailed reviews, etc.) before reading it; I like to let the author reveal the plot and characters to me. So I started Ann Packer's new book, "Swim Back To Me", thinking it was a novel of 6 chapters. It begins in 1972 with precocious eight graders, Richard Appleby and Sasha Horowitz. Richard is our narrator recalling this pivotal time in his life his early teens in San Francisco during the "Hippy" years. But he's a bit of an innocent and so it takes him a while to understand what dangerous choices his friend Sasha is making with a much older pot dealer. This section of the novel is very evocative of being a teen in the early-mid 1970s - almost historical fiction! Packer's descriptions recall what it was like back then when things were so quickly changing in American culture; divorce was starting to be common and "free love" and permissiveness were practiced by some "cool" parents.

When Richard's 1970s story ended, I found that the story seemed to completely start over but I read on thinking it would relate back to the previous chapter. When it didn't, I checked the publisher's notes and, silly me, THIS IS NOT A NOVEL, it's a "collection of narratives" (why not call them short stories?) So THAT explained it and I continued on enjoying the stories. Maybe when it comes out in April it will have "Stories" on the cover.

There are six stories and I enjoyed each. "Molten" told of Kathryn who is deep in grief over her teen son, Ben's, tragic death. She tries to make sense of it all by listening to his CD collection. "Her Firstborn" is a beautifully written story about a couple expecting their first baby.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ann Packer's newest book, Swim Back to Me, is comprised of a novella and five short stories. They are all "emotionally searing stories" dealing with issues of intimacy, misunderstandings that cause distancing, betrayals, and the problems that people have with understanding and knowing one another. Each story is strong and brilliant.

`Walk for Mankind', the novella in this collection, just sings. It is a coming of age story but to just describe it as that would be like saying it's a beautiful day and to leave out what makes it beautiful: the smell of the greenery, the feel of a breeze, the sensation of the the sun on your skin and the overall feeling of beauty and abundance inspired by being part of this world.

The novella takes place in 1972 Palo Alto, California close to the Stanford campus. It is told from fifty-year old Richard's memories of his fourteenth summer. Sasha and Richard are both fourteen years old and are friends, the kind of friends who play scrabble, go to the beach, ride bikes together and play truth and dare. They have fun. Sasha is the more dominant one in the relationship and she has a real independent and wild streak to her that Richard lacks. Sasha decides that she and Richard should do a 20-mile Walk for Mankind and raise so much money that they are `heroes' of a sort. Just before the walk, Sasha meets Cal and begins a sexual relationship with him. Since Cal is a drug dealer, pot also enters the picture. Sasha starts smoking a lot of weed and Richard soon embraces it as well. Pot becomes a big deal for Richard as he "laughs the ocean-wave laughter of the stoned, up and down and down and up, and it was incredibly intense and at the same time locked away from the real world, safe behind a wall of glass".
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