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Swimming Lessons Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of February 2017: A famous elderly author looks out the window of a bookstore and thinks he sees his deceased wife. Upset by this event, he takes a near-fatal tumble and winds up in the hospital. Flora, his youngest daughter, returns home to help care for him—shortly thereafter, letters from her mother will be discovered hidden inside the books of her father’s prized library. Thus begin two plotlines, as Flora and her sister care for their father, and as their mother’s letters lay out her side of the marriage—starting with their first meeting when she was a student and he was a professor. Is their mother dead now, or did she run away? And what other secrets are hidden inside the letters? Well-paced and finely detailed, Swimming Lessons is a mystery about an uncoiling family that will keep you turning pages and cause your loyalties to ebb and flow like a tide. --Chris Schluep, The Amazon Book Review
“Fuller proves to be a master of temporal space, taking readers through flashbacks and epistolary chapters at a pace timed to create wonder and suspense. It’s her beautiful prose, though, that rounds this one out, as she delves deeply to examine the legacies of a flawed and passionate marriage.”
- Booklist, Starred Review
“Ingrid is a brave but floundering heroine who puts down "all the things [she hasn't] been able to say in person" in her letters, resulting in a portrait so intimate, you feel as if you've read a novel written on the secret walls of her very mind. A deeply moving read, with a mystery that keeps you turning pages.”
- Oprah.com, Editor's Pick
“As in her gorgeously harrowing Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller returns to the territory of a mother’s disappearance and a father’s lies with bewitching and page-turning results. If anything, Swimming Lessons is an even more complex puzzle box of a book, excavating darkly knotted family secrets, intricately cruel betrayals and layers of ambiguous loss. Fuller is so clear eyed, poised and psychologically shrewd in the unfolding of her tale, you will be kept guessing until the final penetrating sentence. An extraordinarily smart and satisfying read.”
- Paula McLain, author of THE PARIS WIFE
“Playing out the various scenarios is almost like a “choose your own adventure” story for adults. For me, Ingrid’s story, voice, and perspective, makes for a haunting, motivating, and fantastic read.”
- Steph Opitz, Book of the Month Club Selection
“Swimming Lessons continues Claire Fuller’s mastery of beautiful language and heartbreaking imagery, which lays bare the stories of infidelities, lies, revivals of love and then demise of those loves. The women of this novel fight for their very souls, and their stories unfurl like flags of independence appearing in to wave from her landscape of great books and art and hope.”
- Susan Straight, author of BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HERE
“Claire Fuller has captured love in its fullest form, nursed on betrayal and regret and guilt. Gil cheats on and abandons his wife too many times, until she disappears, leaving her clothing on the beach, and he can't know even if she's still alive. She leaves only letters, hidden in a great library of books, and he'll search for her until his end. Swimming Lessonsis so smoothly, beautifully written, and the human failures here are heartbreaking.”
- David Vann, author of AQUARIUM
“Claire Fuller's acrobatic new novel, about a family who has failed each other, inverts our expectations of narrative time to an astonishing effect: our experience of grasping for truth about those who have left is just as pained and urgent as her characters'. Fuller's sentences are condensed maps of the human process, unfolding in patterns we immediately recognize.”
- Kathleen Alcott, author of INFINITE HOME
“Swimming Lessons hovers in the electric space between secrets and connection, between the desire to love and urge to hide. This is a biting, soaring novel.”
- Ramona Ausubel, author of SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF EASE AND PLENTY
“Eloquent, harrowing, raw . . . sure to keep readers inching off their seats.”
“Saving the best for last with revelations and surprises, Fuller’s well-crafted, intricate tale captures the strengths and shortcomings of ordinary people to show how healing is possible by confronting the darkest places.”
- Library Journal, Starred Review
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Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan.
Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.
My Thoughts: The alternating narratives in Swimming Lessons truly captivated me. One narrator was Ingrid, wife and mother, who has written a plethora of letters to her husband Gil, whom she addresses as “you” in these missives. She is finally having a conversation with him, one which he cannot ignore or dismiss. She is venting about their troubled marriage and the ways in which her life was a disappointment. There are, however, some brighter moments in her letters…mostly about their lives before she had to give up her dreams. Her dreams of an education and her own writing career. The education which she was unable to complete because of the university’s rules regarding married/pregnant students.
Ingrid’s letters were written in 1992, just before she seemingly drowned (or disappeared). She speaks mostly of their lives in the 1970s…but also touches on the later years.
Third person narrators included Gil and Flora. We see Nan from Flora’s perspective, and I didn’t like her very much, probably because she tends to dismiss Flora’s thoughts and ideas, and treats her like a young child. Nan apparently took on the mother’s role after she was gone. Later on, we see a kinder version of her.
Gil seemed like a very selfish man, but since his present day situation shows him troubled and ill, I did feel some sympathy for him.
I loved the descriptions of the book lined rooms and hallways. Stacks of books, sometimes two or three deep, surrounded them all. The fact that Ingrid’s letters were placed in the books in a somewhat planned fashion added to the intrigue of the story.
Would Gil find the letters? Would he finally understand what his wife had been trying to say all those years? Would there be answers to their questions? What stunning events happened to bring the story to a riveting conclusion? And who is the mysterious woman who keeps showing up in Hadleigh? A 5 star read.