Saturday, June 6, 2009
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming
Summary: Laurel Gray Hawthorne needs to make things pretty, whether she's helping her mother make sure the literal family skeleton stays in the closet or turning scraps of fabric into nationally acclaimed art quilts. Her estranged sister Thalia, an impoverished Actress with a capital A, is her polar opposite, priding herself on exposing the lurid truth lurking behind middle class niceties. While Laurel's life seems neatly on track--a passionate marriage, a treasured daughter, and a lovely home in suburban Victorianna--everything she holds dear is suddenly thrown into question the night she is visited by the ghost of a her 13-year old neighbor Molly Dufresne. The ghost leads Laurel to the real Molly floating lifelessly in the Hawthorne's backyard pool. Molly's death is inexplicable--an unseemly mystery Laurel knows no one in her whitewashed neighborhood is up to solving. Only her wayward, unpredictable sister is right for the task, but calling in a favor from Thalia is like walking straight into a frying pan protected only by Crisco. Enlisting Thalia's help, Laurel sets out on a life-altering journey that triggers startling revelations about her family's guarded past, the true state of her marriage, and the girl who stopped swimming.
Review: Reading The Girl Who Stopped Swimming was akin to drinking a tall glass of Sweet Ice Tea on the porch of an antebellum mansion. A uniquely Southern experience that is both warm and inviting, but also wholly unfamiliar (at least to this non-Southerner). In the end, however, I wanted to visit a little longer with sisters Laurel and Thalia.
Jackson's prose at times seems like another language. For example, the novel frequently referred to characters entering or exiting the keeping room. While I now know that my house has one too I had never heard this term before reading this novel. Rather than detracting from the novel these unfamiliar terms drew me in deeper in the way that one listens closer to a speaker who whispers rather than shouts.
Jackson's characters were, for the most part, vividly depicted and leaped off the page. This was especially true of the characters Laurel and Thalia whose relationship propels many of the plot points. While Laurel and Thalia love and support each other, they do not understand many of the choices the other as made. As Thalia mutters, "Some days I wonder how you don't drive hard into a wall, just to make it stop."
Another aspect that I enjoyed were the references to the character Cowslip from the novel Watership Down. While I have not read Watership Down, it is now on my reading list thanks to Jackson. If you are in a book group I would recommend reading the two novels together for an interesting discussion.
The only part of the novel that I found less than fulfilling was the ending. I won't give away any spoilers, but I will say that it seemed too tidy of an ending. I would have preferred a more Thalia envisioned ending -- messy, yet, engaging. However, a lot of readers will probably enjoy the ending.
Overall, I highly enjoyed the The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and would recommend it for a thought provoking summer read.