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So Good I Finished the Book in Two Days

Swimming LessonsSwimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m glad I had lots of free time these last couple of days as it was hard to put the book down!

The novel includes three timelines. First is the “present,” the time Nan and Flora are adults caring for their aging father. Second and third are included in Ingrid’s letters, letters placed in books rather than sent, hence never read by any of the other characters, only by us readers. Her letters include her history of her relationship with Gil in the 70s and reveal a woman trapped in marriage and motherhood, a woman who wants more. They also contain bits from the 90s, contemporary with her writing them. The three together provide in depth character development as the complexity of the relationships are explored.

Gil is a writing teacher, so it is natural for him to talk about literary theory. He proposes it in extreme form: readers make the fiction, not writers, as they fill in the gaps. (He doesn’t get tediously theoretical at all.) This idea is expanded to art as Flora sketches, one time explicitly commenting that she likes making as few lines as possible and letting the viewer fill in the rest. This bit of theory invites the reader to be an active participant.

One particularly interesting episode early on is told in two versions. Ingrid makes a paper daffodil and places it in Gil’s bicycle (before either know the bikes belong to the other); Gil shows it to the creative writing class  (in which Ingrid is a student) to illustrate a secret: he had stolen the flower from beside a sleeping child’s bed in a hospital on his way to visit his dying mother so he would have a flower to present to her. Thus, early on, one wonders whether this reveals his character or merely illustrates the creation of fiction.

The first sentence plunges us into plot: Gil sees his dead wife outside his shop window. The plot continues to develop the ambiguity of her disappearance. Gil and Flora maintain the balance of hope and loss; Nan, the practical, resolves it as loss. We the readers keep wondering and reading in the hopes of finding out.

The ending fits the characters and previous action. The ending has hints of futures for the characters, but doesn’t tell too much. There is room for readers to create, but that creation is constrained by what has been revealed of the characters throughout the novel.

All in all, a good read. I’m eager to read other of Fuller’s works.

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