“Thoughtful Fiction”

I have grumbled in previous posts about fiction I don’t enjoy. I put those books into two categories: experimentation for its own sake and “nothing new under the sun” plots. I assume many the first category are the result of expensive M.F.A. programs and writers trying to prove the money they spent was worth it. I am probably more forgiving of books in the second group. After all, readers many years younger than I am might be encountering the “woman in peril,” “the unreliable narrator,” “the normal looking psychopath,” and “it isn’t who your first expect” plots for the first time.

But occasionally I find a book, such as The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka(2022) that is a little experimental, covers somewhat familiar ground, but is very worthwhile to read. While it presents as one novel, it actually consists of two related parts. The first will delight anyone who has ever swum laps in a public pool. Even without that experience, the metaphor of a crack forming at the pool’s bottom and the range of opinions on its cause and repair will resound with anyone who has experienced the pandemic.

The second part focuses on Alice, a swimmer no longer able to use the now closed pool, and her deepening Alzheimer’s. Told from several points of view, it movingly, but not over dramatically, takes us along with her and her adult daughter. No surprises really, but a gentle and convincing account of the widening gap between Alice and reality.

I am considering a list called “Books You Shouldn’t Waste Your Time On If You Are Over 70 Despite The Rave Reviews.” But The Swimmers joins a very short list of “Books Worth Reading, No Matter Your Age.”

19 thoughts on ““Thoughtful Fiction”

  1. HI Elizabeth, an excellent review. Thank you. I think the expensive MFA programme writers are often in the second group and are taught to write to a formula to such an extent, their work loses all its originality and appeal [for me]. I prefer original work and can be forgiving about a few mistakes to read something that is new and different. There is good stuff out there in the Indie community if you look around for it.


  2. There’s an excellent film (THE SWIMMER) starring Burt Lancaster, based on a John Cheever short story, about a middle-aged man who swims neighborhood backyard pools one day on his way home, recalling his past. Just thought I’d mention it because it sounds like your kind of story.


    1. Yes, I taught that story. The very alcoholic Cheever lived next door to my uncle in suburban New York. He definitely knew of what he wrote. I never saw the film.


  3. Thanks for the recommendation Elizabeth- My local library has it ‘on order’ so my name is now on the waiting list. You’d be surprised how many books have swim, swimming, swimmer/s in their title. Maybe reading some of them could be my ‘challenge’ for the rest of the year.😊


  4. I know exactly what you mean about those familiar plots. One reason why I have watched so few films in the last couple of years, and why I keep giving up on books when I guess what is going to happen after only two chapters.
    Best wishes, Pete.


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