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Posts Tagged ‘The Swimming Pool’

You never know. On the surface, Holly LeCraw’s debut novel, The Swimming Pool, appears to have all the elements of a good beach book, an intriguing summer tale. “A heartbreaking affair, an unsolved murder, an explosive romance,” touts the publisher. “Welcome to summer on the Cape.”

Actually, two summers, seven years apart. LeCraw glides easily between the two, as well as other sequences in the past, as the lives of two families, the Atkinsons and the McClatcheys, overlap way too much. 

Seven years ago, Marcella Atkinson had a clandestine affair with summer neighbor Cecil McClatchey. But then Cecil’s wife Betsy was killed during an apparent break-in in their Atlanta home, and Cecil, implicated but never arrested, died in a single-car accident. Meanwhile in Connecticut, Marcella and her uptight husband Anthony divorced, and sent their young daughter Toni to boarding school.

In the present, Cecil and Betsy’s adult daughter Callie, returns to the Cape with her toddler son, baby daughter and a terrible case of post-partum depression. Because her husband can only visit on the weekends, Callie’s attorney brother Jed takes some time off to spend with Callie and the kids. And, oh, yes, 18-year-old Toni Atkinson, overflowing her bikini,  is working as their babysitter. Wait — it gets better. Jed finds an old bathing suit of Marcella’s in the closet of the McClatchey summer house and realizes she had a thing with his father. He confronts her in her small cottage a couple hours away, she tells him a few things, and then they fall in lust, possibly love. 

This can only end in tears, but LeCraw wades right in, plumbing the murky emotional depths of the various characters, all of whom are weighted with guilt and still more secrets. Everyone is so serious, repressed and/or depressed that the story slowly sinks, all tension dissolving. 

LeCraw writes well about the dynamics of the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, so that one almost forgives the contrivances. In one lovely set piece, Callie remembers sitting on the side of the pool with her mother, their legs outstretched and so alike. At another point, Cecil thinks of marriage as an elaborate, old-fashioned train journey with loads of luggage and creature comforts. “But an affair, he now knew, was a hasty, lean escape. You took only the clothes on your back, you were practically weightless, sleek and swift…” 

But LeCraw’s characters are anchored to the past, burdened by the present.  No playing in the pool here. No day at the beach, alas.  Just a long, slow synchronized swim in an ocean of angst.

Open Book: The Swimming Pool  by Holly LeCraw is published by Doubleday, which sent me an advance copy.

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