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Swimming Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 14, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Keegan takes on death, religion, relationships and coming-of-age in her gorgeously stylized and irreverent debut about a rising Olympic swimming star. Not even a year after Philomena Pip Ash is born in 1960s Middle America, her parents put their rambunctious infant in a pool and watch the remarkable sight of a nine-month-old gliding through the water. With some help from Olympic Supercoach Ernest K. Mankovitz, Pip becomes a mercenary swimming machine who wins an unprecedented collection of gold medals in three Olympic games. Though Pip's connection with water is preternaturally intense, she can't relate to people, a dilemma heightened by early encounters with death and her innate awareness of loathsome pain and insecurities. After going through a premature career climax and the subsequent plummet, Pip is forced to deal with emotions she's spent her life ignoring; her sarcastic (and f-bomb laden) musings provide many amusing turns, while Keegan's linguistic playfulness moves the story at a fast clip, even if it sometimes muddles what's going on—particularly toward the end. This is worth reading for the prose alone. (July)
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Praise for Nicola Keegan’s Swimming
“I loved Swimming. It’s the most original novel I’ve read all year. I can’t get Pip’s voice out of my mind. Give yourself a treat this summer—read this book.”
“Deadpan hilarious . . . fun and imaginative. . . . An ambitious and exhilarating novel about a girl for whom swimming is as vital as breathing. . . . The muscular energy of Keegan’s prose . . . works in bursts—short, punchy clauses and chapters—and Pip’s voice is wryly comic, even when events turn tragic.”
—Radhika Jones, Time
“You don’t have to be a swimmer to respond to this story; you don’t even have to be into sports (heck, I spent all of high school PE hiding in the marching band and I loved this book). . . . [The] tension between exuberance and despair is what gives this novel such reckless buoyancy. . . . Completely absorbing. . . . The book delivers some knockout scenes at the Olympics, enriched by Pip’s quirky humor about her competitors and the media’s inanity.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post Book World
“Keegan’s energy jumps off the page. . . . Swimming is a wonderful coming-of-age story, a richly detailed account of a young woman channeling her rage, grief and insecurity into a passion to win. The voice Keegan has invented for Pip is sarcastic, thoughtful, elegant, irreverent.”
—Diane White, The Boston Globe
“If Jane Bowles and Gerard Manley Hopkins had a lovechild, she might just possibly write as gloriously as Nicola Keegan. Swimming is a novel for people who love donut holes, or the dead, or dogs, or nuns, or fat people, or world class athletes, or the English language, or pretty much anything. It should be read, re–read, dreamed about, quoted to friends, and enacted as a shimmery odd hilarious mystery play. Swimming is simply magnificent.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
“Nicola Keegan has pulled off a coup with her first novel. Swimming is as entertaining as it is deeply moving, a story of loss that is—against all odds—also a jubilation.”
—Lauren Groff, author of The Monsters of Templeton
“Keegan takes on death, religion, relationships and coming-of-age in her gorgeously stylized and irreverent debut about a rising Olympic swimming star. . . . Keegan's linguistic playfulness moves the story at a fast clip. . . . This is worth reading for the prose alone.”
“A troubled child finds her natural element, swimming her way to the Olympics, in this shimmering debut. Young Pip relays her tale with such insight, you’ll feel you’re floating beside her.”
“A fine debut novel about the making of a Olympic champ.”
“Nicola Keegan’s sleek–as–a–porpoise debut novel.”
—Cathleen Medwick, O, The Oprah Magazine
“[A] stroke of genius.”
—Jan Blodgett, Library Journal
“Told in her own quirky, questioning and super-critical voice, Pip’s story of finding her way back to a life on land is inspiring, a must-read for anyone who has, at one time or another, found life to be a challenge. And who hasn’t?”
—Ann La Farge, Hudson Valley News
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Top customer reviews
While on one level, Swimming can be summarized as the rise and fall of an Olympic champion, it's really a story about a dysfunctional girl from a dysfunctional family. Tragedy may have gotten them that way, but they seemed at least borderline maladjusted even before death reared its ugly head. And really, aren't we all dysfunctional to a greater or lesser degree? That lesson, learned by Mena at the end of the book, is a good one for all of us to remember. Being a little bit crazy is okay. In fact, it's normal.
Keegan's style engages from the outset with a very effective first-person point-of-view. At first I was thrown off by her use of italics instead of traditional dialogue, but it really worked for me once I realized that it fit perfectly with Pip's "inside the head" approach to the world. The effect was of being inside Pip's head with her, able to know the outside world only through her perceptions.
One thing I found very interesting was how ambivalent Keegan managed to make the reader feel about Pip. She's clearly a self-obsessed, obnoxious, childish girl, but since we view the world through her mind, we see her as she sees herself -- and she's unstinting in her criticism of herself. There's almost the sense that the story is from an older, wiser Pip who recognizes *now* how she behaved *then*. And who doesn't look back on their teenage years without at least a little wincing?
Overall, I'd recommend this fine book to someone (of most ages) looking for a mature, freshly-told coming-of-age story in an unusual style and setting. Only four stars because I wouldn't read this again, or buy copies for friends. But I certainly look forward to Keegan's next book.