the next good book

The Swimmers

By Julie Otsuka


176 pages

What’s it about?

This slim novel begins at a community swimming pool where a variety of people gather each day to swim laps.  When a crack appears in the bottom of the pool the swimmers have a variety of reactions. One of the swimmers is named Alice and is having memory problems.  The second half of the novel follows Alice as her dementia worsens.

What did it make me think about?

This made me think of our lives- the unending routine of our lives and then the end of all of our routines.

Should I read it?

This was just a brilliant, but sad book.  I am still trying to process the two separate halves of the book and what they were each saying to me.  The swimmers’ stories highlighted the daily minutia that make up our lives.  Then the novel switches narrators several times- and this will be hard for some readers.  We initially hear from “the swimmers” but then we move on to hear from Alice, from Alice’s daughter and even at one point from Bellavista (the memory care center), “There is no ‘meaning’ or ‘higher purpose’ to your affliction. It is not a ‘gift’ or a ‘test’ or an opportunity for personal growth or transformation. It will not heal your angry, wounded soul or make you a kinder, more compassionate person who is less judgmental of others. It will not ennoble your paid carers (‘She’s a saint’) or enrich the lives of those around you who have always loved and adored you. It will just make them sad.” For those of us who have someone with dementia in our lives it hits awfully close to home.

I would highly recommend this book- but it will not move along enough for some readers. The second half of the book was more engrossing to me than the first half, but the first half certainly informs the second half.  This is a quiet and contemplative story and well worth reading.


“Most days, at the pool, we are able to leave our troubles on land behind.  Failed painters become elegant breaststrokers. Untenured professors slice, shark-like, through the water, with breathtaking speed.  The newly divorced HR manager grabs a faded red styrofoam board and kicks with impunity.  The downsized adman floats, otter-like, on his back, as he stares at the clouds on the painted pale blue ceiling, thinking, for the first time all day long, of nothing.  Let it go.  Worriers stop worrying.  Bereaved widows cease to grieve.  Out-of-work actors unable to get traction above ground glide effortlessly down the fast lane, in their element, at last.  I’ve arrived!  And for a brief interlude we are at home in the world.”

Related books: