23. Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton

29 Jul

So wonderful.

Near the end of this book there is a series of illustrations of pools, and it reminded me of a few of mine. 1. Wellesley Country Club, Wellesley Mass; blue, chlorinated, with ladders into both sides of the deep end where we played endless games. 2. Holiday Inn (or equivalent), with my brother, diving for plastic ‘oysters’ while my mother sat, fully dressed in the late twilight, waiting for us to get whatever long day’s car trip had been, out of our systems. 3. Chaika, Moscow. Terrifying, heated outdoor pool surrounded by heaping snowbanks. I had to go with a Russian friend, a 15-year-old girl who spoke no English, the girlfriend of a 25-year-old Dutch man… she worked at a bar where my friend worked and had been deputized to take me swimming and do the bribes to get me into Chaika. You dove down through a little tunnel to get from the locker room to the outdoors and the whole time I was afraid of the dirtiness. When I got home to the apartment where I rented a room from an old Russian woman, I was always unsure of the verbs to be used to describe my trip. S-hadila plavit’? S-ezdila? Pashla plavit? You would think a person could only be confused once on a matter like that but no, every time. 4. Zug, Swiss Alps. Another outdoor winter pool, this one with a light show inside and billowing steam and the Alps on all sides. Wonderful. 5. Leanne Shapton’s in Westchester, homey and set aside from the house in a field of grass. I was there hugely pregnant with my first baby, wearing an embarrassing maternity suit. Remony was there on a blanket, not yet able to crawl.

Anyway. That’s kind of how this book was wonderful. It’s a very loose, reminiscent, closely-first-person dreamlike tale of the author’s relationship to swimming and her two Olympic trials in her teens and early 20s. And it conjures up everything sense-impressiony and real about childhood and families and boredom and love and magical nights and the passing of time. It’s also interesting because the author has become a successful illustrator and the later application of the lessons learned from competitive sports to the arts is unexpected, candid and the kind of thing you don’t usually hear except in platitude form.

It’s human and intimate in a way that makes the Ann Patchett experience from the previous post feel so one-dimensional and cold.

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