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Swimming (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – July 13, 2010
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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“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.” —The Boston Globe
“Comic and celebratory, full of the narrator’s weird blend of goofiness and intelligence. . . . Marvelous. . . . You don’t have to be a swimmer to respond to this story.” —The Washington Post
“A ravishing first novel. . . .The obstacles Keegan has set in the way of Pip’s athletic triumph come by way of a tumultuous, estrogen-rich family . . . two memorably in-your-face girlfriends and a gaggle of steel-plated nuns. . . . Gorgeous.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Ambitious and exhilarating. . . . Gloriously, darkly intuitive. . . . A novel as fun and imaginative as Swimming . . . deserves a medal.” —Time
“An exhilarating mix of talent and mastery. . . . Pip is a captivating narrator, bawdy, skittish and self-conscious, often emotionally raw. . . . Swimming captures the arc of a great athlete’s career, from training to competition to the inevitable endpoint, filtered through the awareness of a sensitive woman whose world has been shattered by grief.” —Jane Ciabattari, NPR, “Books We Love”
“A fine debut novel about the making of an Olympic champ.” —People
“Swimming [is] a joy and a testament to Keegan’s skills as a writer and storyteller, and will leave readers eager for more of her work as soon as it breaks the surface.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Young Pip relays her tale with such insight, you’ll feel you’re floating beside her.” —Good Housekeeping
“Keegan’s medal-worthy prose lingers on the tip of the tongue like a diver on the edge of the platform. . . . Fresh and spirited.” —Daily Candy
“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.” —Hudson Valley News
“Keegan’s writing is beautiful, often stream-of-consciousness, and smart. . . . Pip is like the female Holden Caulfield, pointing out the ridiculous aspects of life, but secretly harboring a deep sadness about not being more entrenched in it.” —Bookreporter
“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
“Think: velocity. Think: a girl moving through adolescence at breakneck speed as she sloughs off anguish (her mother’s depression) and heartbreak (the deaths of her sister and father) to become a gold-medal winning Olympic swimmer. . . . [A] sleek-as-a-porpoise debut novel.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“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.” —Judy Blume
“Engaging. . . . An accomplished debut, as much about swimming as about what it takes to win—and lose.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Nicola Keegan’s prose is filled with inventive riffs to draw out the poignant turbulences of her heroine, both in the water and out. Reading the book becomes itself like a long, sinuous surge through the pool. . . . A classy fiction about the tenuous relationship of worldly success to the intimate self.” —The Independent (London)
“Keegan has caught not only the world of competitive swimming, but the problems professional athletes face when their careers end. . . . The prose is graceful and rapid, as if Keegan set out to write sentences as flowing as the medium she writes of.” —January magazine
“Keegan’s shimmering, fluid prose is outwardly playful, yet this is a seriously well-crafted novel.” —The Guardian (London)
“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
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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.