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Night Swim

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"Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz lives in a posh, suburban world of 1970 Boston. From the outside, her parents' lifestyle appears enviable--a world defined by cocktail parties, expensive cars, and live-in maids to care for their children--but inside their five-bedroom house, all is not well for the Kunitz family. Coming home from school, Sarah finds her well-dressed, pill po "Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz lives in a posh, suburban world of 1970 Boston. From the outside, her parents' lifestyle appears enviable--a world defined by cocktail parties, expensive cars, and live-in maids to care for their children--but inside their five-bedroom house, all is not well for the Kunitz family. Coming home from school, Sarah finds her well-dressed, pill popping mother lying disheveled on their living room couch. At night, to escape their parents' arguments, Sarah and her oldest brother, Peter, find solace in music, while her two younger brothers retreat to their rooms and imaginary lives. Any vestige of decorum and stability drains away when their mother dies in a car crash one terrible winter day. Soon after, their father, a self-absorbed, bombastic professor begins an affair with a younger colleague. Sarah, aggrieved, dives into two summer romances that lead to unforeseen consequences. In a story that will make you laugh and cry, Night Swim shows how a family, bound by heartache, learns to love again."--from cover, p. [4]


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"Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz lives in a posh, suburban world of 1970 Boston. From the outside, her parents' lifestyle appears enviable--a world defined by cocktail parties, expensive cars, and live-in maids to care for their children--but inside their five-bedroom house, all is not well for the Kunitz family. Coming home from school, Sarah finds her well-dressed, pill po "Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz lives in a posh, suburban world of 1970 Boston. From the outside, her parents' lifestyle appears enviable--a world defined by cocktail parties, expensive cars, and live-in maids to care for their children--but inside their five-bedroom house, all is not well for the Kunitz family. Coming home from school, Sarah finds her well-dressed, pill popping mother lying disheveled on their living room couch. At night, to escape their parents' arguments, Sarah and her oldest brother, Peter, find solace in music, while her two younger brothers retreat to their rooms and imaginary lives. Any vestige of decorum and stability drains away when their mother dies in a car crash one terrible winter day. Soon after, their father, a self-absorbed, bombastic professor begins an affair with a younger colleague. Sarah, aggrieved, dives into two summer romances that lead to unforeseen consequences. In a story that will make you laugh and cry, Night Swim shows how a family, bound by heartache, learns to love again."--from cover, p. [4]

30 review for Night Swim

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Life is filled with before and afters.......but, is there something in 'your' life that 'doesn't' have a before and after? This is just one of several questions I asked myself after I finished reading this absolutely spectacular almost flawless novel. For Sarah Kunitz, "Singing didn't have a before and after. It stayed and stayed ". However, Sarah, ( an older teenager), already defines herself by the before's and after. Born into a Jewish Family, Sarah, ("beloved princess", in Hebrew, is conside Life is filled with before and afters.......but, is there something in 'your' life that 'doesn't' have a before and after? This is just one of several questions I asked myself after I finished reading this absolutely spectacular almost flawless novel. For Sarah Kunitz, "Singing didn't have a before and after. It stayed and stayed ". However, Sarah, ( an older teenager), already defines herself by the before's and after. Born into a Jewish Family, Sarah, ("beloved princess", in Hebrew, is considered the mature child – beyond her years her mother says), grew up in a six-bedroom house in Massachusetts, about an hour north of Boston. During the 50's and 60's, the town was known for having an excellent school system, and luscious homes ....( a good neighborhood). Leonard, (The Father), is professor at a small private college. Irene, ( The mom), stays home, deals with physical pain, grows roses like the pros and dresses quite fashionable when she makes appearances at the country club. They both drink & smoke. Leonard yells. Irene is quiet, ( or suppresses). They throw huge- fancy catered parties - always with music. ( Cole Porter, Gershwin, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald) You'll learn a lot - lot more about this couple ... Plenty to dig your teeth into. Peter is the older brother -( 3 years older than Sarah), plays in a band - most out spoken when provoked by his father's rules to the point of being unreasonable. Robert is a little younger than Sarah, often sequestered himself to his room reading. He disliked social events. He was especially interested in 'Time Planets'... studying ancient numerology and the energy of numbers. Elliot is the wonderful wise little brother -- (calm, peacemaker -observant) He often was found playing on the floor with his collection of plastic animals. There are always Black Maids working for this family. I'll let you see how this plays out. I was reminded, though, of my own childhood when I was living in Oakland. After my dad died, ( I was 4), we had many Black Maids. One of them took me on vacation with her once to Oregon to see her family. (I felt closer to her than my own mom). This novel is brilliant -engaging and enjoyable beyond expectations! If you enjoy authors like Anna Quindlin, Meg Wolitzer, Lionel Shriver, Elizabeth Strout, Carol Edgarian, Wally Lamb, Tom Perrotta, and Curtis Sittenfeld... you are sure to like this book. Many of the sentences in "Night Swim", are magnificent...perfectly clear and eloquent! The author allows lots of room, too, for 'the reader' to read between the lines as well. This novel is close to Perfect.... having 'everything' to satisfy our reading juices! A Favorite read for me!! "Night Swim" might bring back memories of the 70's for some ...( Led Zeppelin music, pot, coming of age within a troubled family- ( but awesome characters to read about), coming of age with peers at school- sexual content- anti-Semitism- ( "Kike")- racism - middle class during transition in the 70's when the political world is changing, abortion, loss, death, injustice, psychological abuse, drugs & rock & roll! The author handles all topics realistically and does not play favors by condemning or approving the choices the characters make. It's SUCH A GOOD BOOK!!!! loved it love it loved it!!! ... and I can't say it enough! Thank You to Fiction Studio Books, edelweiss, and Jessica Keener (I'll read 'anything' you write!!!)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lydia Presley

    Original review posted here This book surprised the heck out of me. I don’t know what I loved more – Jessica Keener’s descriptions of the world contained within the book, or her ability to really capture the voice of each and every individual character. When I picked up Night Swim and started to read, I struggled a little bit to find a groove, figure out what Keener was doing, but man – once I got into a groove I couldn’t put this book down, to the detriment of the stacks upon stacks of homework Original review posted here This book surprised the heck out of me. I don’t know what I loved more – Jessica Keener’s descriptions of the world contained within the book, or her ability to really capture the voice of each and every individual character. When I picked up Night Swim and started to read, I struggled a little bit to find a groove, figure out what Keener was doing, but man – once I got into a groove I couldn’t put this book down, to the detriment of the stacks upon stacks of homework I had to do. A sort of coming-of-age story, but also a story about relationships between parents and children, different races and classes, religions, and more. This was a hodge-podge of everything that is dynamite in a story, and instead of overwhelming that story with too much, it worked very, very well, creating a compelling story that’s been stuck in my mind since I put the book down. Every once in a while I pick up a book that I wouldn’t normally pick up in a book store. The biggest complaint about this book is the cover, I find it way too boring and bland considering the content it’s hiding. If I had seen it in a bookstore, I just wouldn’t have been interested – but I didn’t. Instead I was hooked by a description and that hook was enough to get me to look past the cover and find the story. Y’all, this one was very much worth the read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I read Jessica Keener's incredible debut novel, "Night Swim", from cover to cover today. I took "Night Swim", our pup Abby, Powerade, my cell, and a pillow down to our basement seeking soothing cool from the day from hades heat. I could not put this book down. I was dragging this morning, but that changed when I got hooked and revved up from page one. What I felt was so primal and visceral - I saw my family in my mind and recognized how we couldn't free ourselves from the net we had trapped ours I read Jessica Keener's incredible debut novel, "Night Swim", from cover to cover today. I took "Night Swim", our pup Abby, Powerade, my cell, and a pillow down to our basement seeking soothing cool from the day from hades heat. I could not put this book down. I was dragging this morning, but that changed when I got hooked and revved up from page one. What I felt was so primal and visceral - I saw my family in my mind and recognized how we couldn't free ourselves from the net we had trapped ourselves in together, yet all the while feeling so alone and letting time and each other pass by like string unraveling from a spool or as pieces of a boulder unable to move. My eyes felt like they popped open as I read the clean, to the point, yet elegant prose driven style and pace with which this author's mind and hands pushed and pulled and held onto me, from start to finish. The reality of a family sinking as if attached to a ten ton anchor and hiding with no where to escape; together, yet each member so utterly alone, or alone and so utterly fettered. I couldn't get enough of each page of this "real and raw emotion" and "real and raw life" honest to goodness what matters most in life book into me fast enough, even though I had to take some breaks because of how much raw emotion was building inside me. I don't often come across a book that speaks with such soul, and an author who is so unabashedly honest about everything we as individuals and as members of families feel and go through together, but all the while truly feel all alone, yet we don't let each other know. Why, why, why do we stay trapped or run away when doing so creates the real tragedy? I sent my brother, Marc, a copy of "Night Swim" earlier tonight. I chose the fastest shipping speed available - should be in Ann Arbor, MI by late tomorrow afternoon. Marc will understand that I sent this book to him because I love him. Thank you Jessica (Keener) for giving me a way to start talking to my only brother about things I've dreamed about taking with him about for a long time. I know that I will be able to reach him and get closer to him because you wrote this book. Thank you for giving me an important and unexpected way to get closer to my brother.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Leora

    This is a deeply moving novel about a family falling slowly into a tragic paralysis together. Wrought with a clear narrative eye, in neither melodramatic nor false tones, it confronts the questions essential to all families, when and how does instability take hold,and become visible and what far-reaching impact is suffered by the innocents...I read it recognizing the subtle places we all hide or choose to flee from, and I also read it in deep appreciation of the writer's skills to make accessibl This is a deeply moving novel about a family falling slowly into a tragic paralysis together. Wrought with a clear narrative eye, in neither melodramatic nor false tones, it confronts the questions essential to all families, when and how does instability take hold,and become visible and what far-reaching impact is suffered by the innocents...I read it recognizing the subtle places we all hide or choose to flee from, and I also read it in deep appreciation of the writer's skills to make accessible those corners of consciousness, with such grace and lucidity.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Erin Cashman

    Night Swim is a beautifully written coming of age story. Sixteen year old Sarah Kunitz lives with her affluent family in an upscale Boston suburb in the 70s. The Kunitz family is the envy of the neighborhood: a lovely home, days spent at the country club, live in maids and fancy cocktail parties. But behind the perfect façade lies a family in turmoil. Sarah’s domineering father bullies his children from the moment he walks in the door, and her impeccably dressed mother finds solace in alcohol an Night Swim is a beautifully written coming of age story. Sixteen year old Sarah Kunitz lives with her affluent family in an upscale Boston suburb in the 70s. The Kunitz family is the envy of the neighborhood: a lovely home, days spent at the country club, live in maids and fancy cocktail parties. But behind the perfect façade lies a family in turmoil. Sarah’s domineering father bullies his children from the moment he walks in the door, and her impeccably dressed mother finds solace in alcohol and prescription pills. After her mother dies one wintry night in a car accident, her father begins a relationship with a younger woman, and the family falls apart. As Sarah struggles to gain her independence and find her own voice, she blossoms into a lovely young woman. Sarah is a wonderfully observant character, noting the prejudices and injustices around her, but never in a preachy way. All of the characters are beautifully crafted by the immensely talented author, Jessica Keener. Her writing is so poignant and eloquent; I hated to see Night Swim come to an end. I highly recommend Night Swim!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Megan Rowe

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Occasionally I read a book that constantly makes me stop, cringe at my base jealousy, and wish that I could be a good enough writer, and write a book like the one I am reading. This is one of those books. I don't like to talk about shows in reference to books, but I am going to do it anyway. The 70s coming of age elements of this book at times reminded me of the beautiful simplicity of the Wonder Years. This is not an accurate comparison because this book is much darker, and the Kunitz family co Occasionally I read a book that constantly makes me stop, cringe at my base jealousy, and wish that I could be a good enough writer, and write a book like the one I am reading. This is one of those books. I don't like to talk about shows in reference to books, but I am going to do it anyway. The 70s coming of age elements of this book at times reminded me of the beautiful simplicity of the Wonder Years. This is not an accurate comparison because this book is much darker, and the Kunitz family could never be confused with the Arnold's. Sarah and her siblings were very interesting characters. They weren't always likeable, but they were always interesting, and that made them likeable in a more realistic way. I wondered if Sarah's brother Robert was meant to be autistic, but I didn't want to read too much into that because each member of the family had their own form of escapism, and I didn't feel an overwhelming need to brand his. At first, when I finished the book, I wondered why in the world the author would choose to start the story with a conversation with Mickey. I guess that is because when the book started, this first chapter in present life gave me the impression that Mickey would be a main character (and yes, I will admit, I assumed he would be a main love interest)and when he ended up only being her first kiss (and hardly a true first kiss), I didn't understand the choice. Wouldn't it be more fitting to have her summer school interest, Gregory, come back? The answer is no. No, Gregory wouldn't be better. In fact, no one would be better than Mickey, and this shows what a discerning eye Keener has. This choice is the type of choice, in my mind, that separates the good writers from the great writers. Mickey was the perfect choice because when you're older and removed from your youth, it's not your long-lost love who gets back in touch with you, it's that neighbor boy who you kissed once under a broken pool table. More importantly, he is ideal because he was there before her coming of age that coincided with the complete disintegration of her family. He is the vehicle for our narrator to start the story before things have gone completely wrong (which is important because even before the downward spiral, the Kunitz family was far from perfect). The fact that he was a vehicle is important as well because this concept plays a central role in the story. Sarah and Peter use their music to escape. Eliot uses his animal figurines, and Robert uses his paranormal science fiction novels. All of the characters in the novel have something, and many of them use more than one thing to escape. As Sarah battles between trying to escape and trying to connect in the right way, she finds solace in her music. She looks through her mother's things as she is moving out of her home, and she tries to connect with her mother. Her music teacher, who also lost a parent when he was young, helps her to connect through her music instead of exclusively escaping through it. This ending chapter, where the reader sees the narrator drawing everyone to her, is absolutely stunning.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alexis Villery

    The Kunitz family looks perfect on the outside, but on the inside they are falling apart. Sarah's mother is clearly unhappy and seems stuck in the past when her family needs her most. Yet, she is described so eloquently that she doesn't seem like a bad mother, but rather, like an individual that wasn't quite meant for this world. Sarah's father wants to keep his family whole but can't quite seem to get control, which he is well aware. Sarah and her siblings attempt to navigate the world the best The Kunitz family looks perfect on the outside, but on the inside they are falling apart. Sarah's mother is clearly unhappy and seems stuck in the past when her family needs her most. Yet, she is described so eloquently that she doesn't seem like a bad mother, but rather, like an individual that wasn't quite meant for this world. Sarah's father wants to keep his family whole but can't quite seem to get control, which he is well aware. Sarah and her siblings attempt to navigate the world the best way they know how. Sarah and Peter disappear into their music and the younger siblings disappear into the world of fantasy, animals, and books. Tragedy strikes and like many of teenagers, Sarah doesn't know how to cope. Unfortunately there is little help to guide her way. Oh a tangled web Ms. Keener weaves. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, but I find it quite difficult to write the review. It's one of those stories where you try to describe it but in the end you say, "Well you just had to be there." I can't write a description or synopsis of this book to fully describe this book because the beauty is in the writing and how Ms. Keener unveils each part of the story. She takes an ordinary, and perhaps sad, story and weaves it into a song that you can't quite get out of your head. The story sounds quite simple but it is so much more than that. The writing is fabulous, making the reader turn each page with eagerness and trepidation at the same time. The characters are flawed and human. I wanted to shake each and every one of them but thought they needed a few hugs as well. While I wouldn't call this book, plot driven, I did find myself tearing through the pages. Ms. Keener creates a complex story that deals with loss, racism, sex, and consequences. Yet, hope and healing seems to be the true theme. While the story is touching, it is the writing that sets it apart from all the rest.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    Night Swim is a very atmospheric book. Keener does a great job of establishing time and place. There are certain observations the narrator, Sarah, makes that are just lovely and sharp. There were interesting moments that reflected the tensions of race and class in the suburbs and I admired the portrayal of Sarah's mother trying to negotiate motherhood, wifehood, and unhappiness. Mostly, as I read Night Swim, I wanted more because the writing held so much potential--more depth, more complexity, m Night Swim is a very atmospheric book. Keener does a great job of establishing time and place. There are certain observations the narrator, Sarah, makes that are just lovely and sharp. There were interesting moments that reflected the tensions of race and class in the suburbs and I admired the portrayal of Sarah's mother trying to negotiate motherhood, wifehood, and unhappiness. Mostly, as I read Night Swim, I wanted more because the writing held so much potential--more depth, more complexity, more. The second half of the novel, after a significant loss rom the Kunitz family, is much stronger, creating a distracting unevenness. The sense of loss in that second half is palpable and the ways in which the Kunitz family fractures are written believably and poignantly. The characters become far more interesting and well-developed. I particularly appreciated how Keener wrote the youngest brother, Elliott. What really did not work for me was the narrative frame of Sarah looking back on her life as an adult. The book starts with Sarah, alone because her husband is out of town, thinking about a message from an old friend, and that is never really revisited. It feels like a bit of a red herring. We don't need the frame of reminisce for this novel to work and to have a few brief reminders of the narrative frame were more frustrating than useful for driving the narrative forward.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Missy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Amazon told me I would love this book. Amazon was wrong. While the book, overall, wasn't terrible, it felt and read like a short story, or a series of short stories that had been meshed together. There were several times with the narrator's voice suddenly takes on a different tone, and while that might have been the author's intent, it takes you out of the story and back into the mind of the present-day narrator. I usually don't do this, but I was even frustrated with the title, which had very l Amazon told me I would love this book. Amazon was wrong. While the book, overall, wasn't terrible, it felt and read like a short story, or a series of short stories that had been meshed together. There were several times with the narrator's voice suddenly takes on a different tone, and while that might have been the author's intent, it takes you out of the story and back into the mind of the present-day narrator. I usually don't do this, but I was even frustrated with the title, which had very little to do with the plot of the story. One night swim. And pretty far into the story. And from that point in the story on through the end it's just one sad moment after another as the main character loses her virginity, gets pregnant, has an abortion, hides it from her father. Honestly, this read like a piece written for a creative writing class that had a lot to do with their childhood and then got published without much editing or revision.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Keener

    Thanks to these wonderful writers for their endorsement of Night Swim: Jennifer Egan, Sara Gruen, Jon Clinch, Dawn Tripp, Caroline Leavitt, Susan Henderson, Carolyn B. Bass, Patry Francis, Risa Miller.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    Beautifully written novel about a girl, her family and the loss of her dysfunctional mother.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I'm surprised anyone would give this excellent story, an excerpt from or the inspiration for a novel, one star. It drew me in and gave me that sought-after taste of what comes next without defining exactly what that might be. Piquant indeed. I'm surprised anyone would give this excellent story, an excerpt from or the inspiration for a novel, one star. It drew me in and gave me that sought-after taste of what comes next without defining exactly what that might be. Piquant indeed.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Leavitt

    Adore this book. The writing is stellar, and the pages virtually ache. I can't wait to read more from this talented writer. Adore this book. The writing is stellar, and the pages virtually ache. I can't wait to read more from this talented writer.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    There are certain books that have an intangible quality that transcends the nuances and the mechanics of good writing and literature. Such books somehow have, through their language and the emotions they evoke on the page, the ability to transport the reader right back to a pivotal and critical time in one's life. Night Swim is that kind of book for me. Those of you who know my personal history will know why Night Swim resonated so deeply (especially in February, especially this week). This is the There are certain books that have an intangible quality that transcends the nuances and the mechanics of good writing and literature. Such books somehow have, through their language and the emotions they evoke on the page, the ability to transport the reader right back to a pivotal and critical time in one's life. Night Swim is that kind of book for me. Those of you who know my personal history will know why Night Swim resonated so deeply (especially in February, especially this week). This is the coming-of-age story of 16-year old Sarah Kunitz, growing up in a dysfunctional family in an affluent suburb of Boston in 1970, and grieving the sudden, tragic loss of her mother. Just substitute Philadelphia for Boston, 1985 for 1970, father for mother ... and Sarah Kunitz becomes Me, minus some of the dysfunction and a couple of details - and one significant storyline that happens to Sarah in the aftermath of her mother's death. Jessica Keener captures so precisely the inner emotions of a teenager who has lost a parent that it is natural to assume (as I did) that this element of Night Swim is completely autobiographical. It is not (it's based on Keener's experience with a close friend) and to be able to render that so perfectly in fiction is just one of the reasons why this makes Keener such a talent and a writer worth watching. Keener has the ability to seamlessly change the novel's tone to fit the scene, and that's a trait that sometimes even much more supposedly seasoned writers have difficulty accomplishing. For example, while reading the descriptions of Sarah's mother's funeral and shiva, my initial thoughts were that the tone felt flat ... and then I thought: of course it feels flat. It needs to feel that way because at such a time your world IS flattened. YOU ARE emotionally flattened. What gives Night Swim its authenticity are the little, minuscule details surrounding a parent's death (or really, any significant loss) that Keener weaves into Sarah's story.The way teachers pause when saying your name while taking attendance when you come back to school the week after your parent dies. The quick, stealth-like glances that other students give you in the hallway right before their eyes avert from yours. And if the little details contained within give Night Swim its authenticity, it is the big themes that gives Jessica Keener's debut novel the power to become one of the defining coming-of-age novels of our time and the potential to become among the classics in this genre. There is an element of Night Swim that truly feels reminiscent of the work of Judy Blume, and knowing what a revered icon in literature Ms. Blume is (to myself included), I don't say that nor draw that comparison lightly. But it's there, and it exists, and although I am not a big young adult novel (YA) reader, of those such novels I have read I cannot recall any modern YA/coming-of-age novel that has so poignantly reminded me of what I believe to be the standard-bearer. Because like Judy Blume, Jessica Keener tackles the big themes and the larger societal, cultural issues - the dysfunctional disconnect of a family before and after a tragic loss, anti-Semitism, racism, Vietnam, feminism, one's emerging sexuality and personal experimentation - and connects them throughout Night Swim in a way that isn't heavy-handed nor patronizing to her reader. "Mr. Bingham told us to keep in mind what we learned about molecules and to turn to the section on ecosystems and the evolution of swamps. He looked at me, but then he talked in his usual stern way about beavers, and trees and water interacting as one system. ' The deletion of one affects the processing of the others,' he said. 'Mr. Beaver makes his dam, the water pools up, the tree roots begin to rot.' He lifted his bearded chin, perused the row of students then looked at me again and said, 'all things connected,' in a surprisingly gentle voice." pg. 146 If there's one over-riding theme or message in Night Swim, it's that of the connections we make with those we love and what happens when that goes missing and we seek substitutes. We see this with each member of the Kunitz family, each of whom finds solace in something separate but absolutely essential to him or herself in order to cope with the family's dysfunction as they grieve and heal in the loss of their mother. For their father, it's a relationship with a younger colleague. For Sarah's brother, Robert, it's nurturing his fish and delving into reading a series of time travel books; for Elliot, the youngest brother, it's a communion with a vast menagerie of plastic animals, lining them up in circles by patterns, delving into an imaginary world. "It might have been easy to think that Elliot didn't notice unruly behavior precisely because it was all he had known. But I knew that wasn't so. He simply chose to ignore certain aspects of others' personalities. Robert treated Elliot poorly whenever Elliot came in to look at his fish. The fishbowl was a magnet for Elliot. It held a transcendent light that captured a silence and an intensity that Elliot identified with. .... In this way, Elliot possessed weight, self-knowledge, and a natural understanding of the multiple ways other people responded to the same stimulus. So it was that Elliot also had a way of accepting Mother's death, albeit, not without a sage's wisdom and sad face. He accepted the illogicality of it. In his nine-year-old mind that had matured emotionally beyond the clumsiness of his body, he said that God was like clay and that all things on earth came in different shapes - including Mother - and that Mother had simply been remolded, but still remained a part of us. He was certain of this. "Mother visits me after school," he said. I sat on the floor of his room, next to the windowsill, and watched him line up a group of dogs and cats in a circle. He alternated cat, dog, cat, dog. I didn't know what to say to this. What he said scared but comforted me. "How?" "She came with the wind." "That's beautiful, Elliot." "You don't believe me." I didn't know if I did but I felt her puzzling silence, her completely muted presence, an unspoken puzzle I had not solved. "Yes and no. I don't know. It's confusing." If these vespers, these harbingers of changing weather added up to some kind of ghostlike substance, then I did believe. But I doubted. Doubt obscured me. The question mark would remain. Yet sitting next to Elliot calmed me. If he could manage so could I. What I began to learn, though, is that the question mark - my mother - stayed with me, followed me wherever I went. She floated inside, a buoy without a boat." (pg. 168-169) As the mom of a child with autism, I adored Elliot's character and Keener's gentle, sensitive rendering of him - and knowing that Night Swim is set in 1970 when diagnosis criteria and services weren't what they are today, wondered how Elliot fared as an adult. Keener gives her reader a small glimpse into that world, thankfully - albeit a small one. (I admit, I wanted more.) Night Swim opens with an adult Sarah receiving an email from a former neighbor who has come across her music online and sampled the links. "Mickey Fineburg's email brings everything back again." (prelude) For Sarah, her escape and connection (one that she shares with her brother Peter) comes in the form of music, which plays a predominant role in Night Swim and is again used to bridge that connection with Sarah and her mother. (Her mother was a violinist before having children and developing arthritis.) "By the time I reached the last lines of the first stanza, and love - will steer the stars - I had left the auditorium on a solo ride, as if I were in a hot-air balloon drifting over high branches and the chorus like leaves rustling below. Together we sang 'This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius." I stood taller, turning my palm out, offering up my heart. It was here, in this moment of singing, that I shed my shadows and ghosts." (pg. 182) That concept of being able to shed shadows and ghosts, even temporarily, is what gives Night Swim its heft as a novel. While there are elements in our lives that can work wonders to help soothe our pain, it is always there - always present in the form of a reminder, in a memory, a Friend Request, in an email from a former neighbor coming across the country in the midnight hours. Our past is part and parcel of what makes us the people we are. All things connected.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    The Kunitz family is falling apart. From the outside, the family looks sort of perfect. They have parties. Both of the parents are social. The children are fantastic but the whole family is sort of falling apart at the seams. When Sarah's mother dies, the whole family's life changes and Sarah seems to be wondering if anything will ever be steady again. This is both a coming of age story and a family story. Sarah, who is at the center of the story, is the one that really comes of age. She's very n The Kunitz family is falling apart. From the outside, the family looks sort of perfect. They have parties. Both of the parents are social. The children are fantastic but the whole family is sort of falling apart at the seams. When Sarah's mother dies, the whole family's life changes and Sarah seems to be wondering if anything will ever be steady again. This is both a coming of age story and a family story. Sarah, who is at the center of the story, is the one that really comes of age. She's very naive at first and gets in way over her head. She learns that there's consequences for everything and you can't really just stick your head in the sand. The real star of this book is Keener's writing. She writes in such a way that you really feel for the characters even though some of them are not the most upstanding or make the best decisions but you still feel for them as fellow humans. Keener also does a great job with building the world of that the Kunitz's live in: 1970s Boston area. It's still a time of change and turmoil as you can see from some of Sarah's dealings at school. The Kunitz family is Jewish and that group is still not fully accepted. Sarah doesn't understand why it has to be that way and in some small way tries to fight it by hanging out with her Italian friend. Bottom line: This is a solid read with a story that will hook you.

  16. 5 out of 5

    joanna

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. When I realized I was 95% finished on my Kindle, I honestly felt sadness. I just wasn't quite ready to let Sarah go. I loved this book. Although there is a great deal of drama in just 284 pages, it didn't feel forced. The author described each character fully and clearly and took the reader along on Sarah's very bumpy ride. It made me appreciate my family more than ever. Here are just two of my favorite excerpts ... "Within days Grandpa had a massive heart attack. He collapsed at his kitchen tab When I realized I was 95% finished on my Kindle, I honestly felt sadness. I just wasn't quite ready to let Sarah go. I loved this book. Although there is a great deal of drama in just 284 pages, it didn't feel forced. The author described each character fully and clearly and took the reader along on Sarah's very bumpy ride. It made me appreciate my family more than ever. Here are just two of my favorite excerpts ... "Within days Grandpa had a massive heart attack. He collapsed at his kitchen table on the the top floor of his condo building overlooking Boston Harbor. There was no reviving him at ninety-one. But I remembered when he held all of me in his arms. He didn't rush when he spoke. His voice had a feeling of forever in it." "I reminded myself that I once had this comfort, this possession of having a mother, owning one. She was home, upstairs in her bedroom reading magazines, sipping her drink. She had been there whether I like her there or not. The sight of her sitting on the loveseat in her bedroom, with the pleated lampshade by her side, blinded me for a moment. I swooned. I wanted her to see me. Stay with me Mother, please. It mattered." Hoping for another Keener novel very soon!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sonia

    This was an interesting book in that I enjoyed reading it but...I'm not sure I ever knew what it was about. Let me explain, the book was beautifully written. The characters were captivating, and the emotions were real and tangible. But the plot...well, I'm not sure there was a whole lot of plot to it. But maybe that was the point? The book starts in present time with the protagonist reflecting on her past, and travels back in time to share a piece of her history. This piece of her history is the This was an interesting book in that I enjoyed reading it but...I'm not sure I ever knew what it was about. Let me explain, the book was beautifully written. The characters were captivating, and the emotions were real and tangible. But the plot...well, I'm not sure there was a whole lot of plot to it. But maybe that was the point? The book starts in present time with the protagonist reflecting on her past, and travels back in time to share a piece of her history. This piece of her history is the main story, I suppose, and although, once again, captivating and well written, it just seems a bit disjointed and never really "takes off". When we return to present day again at the end...nothing much has been resolved, or done, or said...there are all these wholes, all these missing pieces. And yet, I haven't been able to stop thinking about the characters since I put the book down 2 days ago. It left me wanting more, a whole lot more. Which could be seen as a good thing, or...as a novel lacking substance. I'm not sure. Thus the 3 star rating. I liked it, but...yeah...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Thanks Goodreads for the great giveaway!!! Night Swim is a powerful first novel about a family unraveling before the eyes of the teenage daughter, Sarah. Unable to comprehend the actions of their parents, Sarah & her brothers retreat into their secret worlds with unforeseen consequences. I was totally engrossed by this compelling story. I literally wanted to take Sarah & her siblings home with me. My only regret is I wasn’t quite ready to let the characters go & I wish I knew what happens to Sar Thanks Goodreads for the great giveaway!!! Night Swim is a powerful first novel about a family unraveling before the eyes of the teenage daughter, Sarah. Unable to comprehend the actions of their parents, Sarah & her brothers retreat into their secret worlds with unforeseen consequences. I was totally engrossed by this compelling story. I literally wanted to take Sarah & her siblings home with me. My only regret is I wasn’t quite ready to let the characters go & I wish I knew what happens to Sarah & her brothers later in their lives. I will highly recommend this book to my book club & I look forward to Ms. Keener’s next novel.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    I started reading this today on my iPad because a friend posted on Facebook that the book is free to download today and tomorrow from Amazon. So by putting it in my currently reading list here, I'm passing the word to friends and followers on Goodreads. It makes me wonder how much we are manipulating the market by posting our choices or, which is more likely, how much we are all being manipulated by a superior force... A first novel with a credible main character but some glitches in the language I started reading this today on my iPad because a friend posted on Facebook that the book is free to download today and tomorrow from Amazon. So by putting it in my currently reading list here, I'm passing the word to friends and followers on Goodreads. It makes me wonder how much we are manipulating the market by posting our choices or, which is more likely, how much we are all being manipulated by a superior force... A first novel with a credible main character but some glitches in the language and a few stray bits of plot that made me wonder where it was all leading....

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    There is a big difference between YA and coming-of-age novels. This book is the reason why I love coming-of-age stories. Nothing extraordinary happens in this book but it feels so real and relatable. I couldn't put this down and finished it quickly, but I was sad when it was over. I would have been happy if this book was 3x longer. There is a big difference between YA and coming-of-age novels. This book is the reason why I love coming-of-age stories. Nothing extraordinary happens in this book but it feels so real and relatable. I couldn't put this down and finished it quickly, but I was sad when it was over. I would have been happy if this book was 3x longer.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I will be reviewing this book on my blog in mid-January. I read it today in one day. It was a wonderful read that I highly recommend. I want to give it 4-1/2 stars as I am trying to avoid giving 5 stars to books as everyone can grow a bit. But this was a fantastic read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robby

    http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/ra... http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/ra...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Julie Kibler

    A poignant picture of a young woman who has lost her mother and seeks to replace what is missing in both healthy and unhealthy ways.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    "Life was full of before and afters....Except for music. Singing didn't have a before or after. It stayed and stayed." "Life was full of before and afters....Except for music. Singing didn't have a before or after. It stayed and stayed."

  25. 4 out of 5

    Meg Tuite

    Night Swim is an exemplary coming-of age story of sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz. Jessica Keener leads us into the deeper waters of the family angst with a raging father and a mother who is but a shadow of herself, barely there, and three younger brothers who survive the inner turmoil through music, books and the fantasy world of a child. Keener doesn’t shy away from class issues, race issues, extreme loss and mourning, injustice, anti-Semitism, psychological abuse by the father and Sarah’s first Night Swim is an exemplary coming-of age story of sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz. Jessica Keener leads us into the deeper waters of the family angst with a raging father and a mother who is but a shadow of herself, barely there, and three younger brothers who survive the inner turmoil through music, books and the fantasy world of a child. Keener doesn’t shy away from class issues, race issues, extreme loss and mourning, injustice, anti-Semitism, psychological abuse by the father and Sarah’s first teenage experiences with sex. Keener’s words are fluid like music, which she quotes throughout the book, as Sarah moves through her familial world trying to understand it. When Sarah’s mom dies in what is construed as a passive suicide, the youngest son, Elliot, is the wise soul that Sarah finds consolation in. “In his nine-year-old mind that had matured emotionally beyond the clumsiness of his body, he said that God was like clay and that all things on earth came in different shapes – including mother – and that mother had simply been remolded, but still remained a part of us.” Keener is a master at building the narrative slowly and rhythmically. Sarah gains her confidence, her voice and her independence through the beautiful relationships she shares with her brothers, the maids and her parents in this heart wrenching and unforgettable story of the underbelly of a family who appear to have it all from the outside, yet behind those curtains there is a restrained hell breaking loose. Keener rips through to the core of what matters most in life – letting go of the secrets and revealing the truth. Night Swim is a superlative novel and a smooth read. It’s one of those books you never want to come to an end. I highly recommend Night Swim to all! Order your copy now! You will be happy that you did!

  26. 4 out of 5

    CoffeeBook Chick

    To read my full review, please click here: http://www.coffeeandabookchick.com/20... ...this was a deeply touching and acutely felt story. Jessica Keener succeeded in building a fully developed character in Sarah, one whose emotional story was laced with flaw, tinged with regret, and ultimately ached to receive motherly guidance in any way possible. While I felt there were a few plot points that went on longer than necessary, those are minor quibbles about a story that felt genuine with every page To read my full review, please click here: http://www.coffeeandabookchick.com/20... ...this was a deeply touching and acutely felt story. Jessica Keener succeeded in building a fully developed character in Sarah, one whose emotional story was laced with flaw, tinged with regret, and ultimately ached to receive motherly guidance in any way possible. While I felt there were a few plot points that went on longer than necessary, those are minor quibbles about a story that felt genuine with every page and character. The sad fact was that it already seemed as though Sarah had always been living without a mother, with the accident securing what she couldn't (or didn't want to) recognize before. That might be what ringed the most genuine in this story. It's not when the person dies that makes you realize that things can never change now; instead, it's realizing that nothing ever would have gotten better even if the person had lived. Night Swim is an emotional tale of growing up and feeling lost in a big family with parents who are emotionally absent. With summer romances, tough questions, drugs, loss, and heartache, the 1970s will be Sarah's time to make the choices that will shape her future and ultimately, make her whole. I enjoyed this story and anticipate a long career from Jessica Keener; I look forward to reading much, much more from her.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Sarah, the teenager in this novel, is part of a complicated family dynamic, and has a lot of outside angst to deal with in the midst of her own coming of age. Keener paints a realistic picture of a teenager trying to sort out what life means amidst problems that adults have a struggle to handle. She develops her characters well and does make you care what happens to them--Sarah in particular. My favorite character in the book is Dora, the black maid, who is comforting and compassionate underneat Sarah, the teenager in this novel, is part of a complicated family dynamic, and has a lot of outside angst to deal with in the midst of her own coming of age. Keener paints a realistic picture of a teenager trying to sort out what life means amidst problems that adults have a struggle to handle. She develops her characters well and does make you care what happens to them--Sarah in particular. My favorite character in the book is Dora, the black maid, who is comforting and compassionate underneath a tough (it's got nothing to do with me) veneer. I like the way Dora sees what is going on in the family, when most of its members seem sadly clueless. Unfortunately, this just isn't my kind of book. It does not touch on what the 70s were like, it touches on the cliche of what the 70s were like. Sarah is too modern, independent and sophisticated in her thinking for a girl of the 70s. I think it would have much more traction with a younger reader. Keener writes very well and the story moves at exactly the right pace and if it had felt closer to home for me, I might have rated it higher.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I think this is a well-written, interesting book. It wasn't "action-packed," which is fine; I enjoyed learning about the different characters and seeing how things developed. I was a little disappointed in the ending. I was fairly captivated by the events of the end, but the jump back to present day with a brief wrap-up left me feeling unresolved. I wanted to know how Sarah had healed from the heartbreak and tragedy. I was curious as to what transpired in the years between the end of the look ba I think this is a well-written, interesting book. It wasn't "action-packed," which is fine; I enjoyed learning about the different characters and seeing how things developed. I was a little disappointed in the ending. I was fairly captivated by the events of the end, but the jump back to present day with a brief wrap-up left me feeling unresolved. I wanted to know how Sarah had healed from the heartbreak and tragedy. I was curious as to what transpired in the years between the end of the look back at 1970 and the present. However, my thoughts on the ending didn't ruin the whole book for me. I still thought the it had been worth my time, and the fact that I got it for free was a great bonus. :)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dina Martinelli

    Although NIGHT SWIM was at times entertaining, it was too often in need of some major editing. Keener constantly described every thought and action of her characters and was inconsistent in sketching a protagonist that's growth was believable. I often felt that everything that could be tossed into the plot, was tossed into the plot. After drug addiction, suicide, teen sex and religious persecution, I was hoping that someone would set off some kind of major explosive and take us all out of our mi Although NIGHT SWIM was at times entertaining, it was too often in need of some major editing. Keener constantly described every thought and action of her characters and was inconsistent in sketching a protagonist that's growth was believable. I often felt that everything that could be tossed into the plot, was tossed into the plot. After drug addiction, suicide, teen sex and religious persecution, I was hoping that someone would set off some kind of major explosive and take us all out of our misery.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Emily Berthelot

    I started this book thinking it was another book with the same title. 🤦🏻‍♀️ I kept waiting for the suspense/thriller to show up. A third of the way in I realized my mistake. But, being the person I am, I persevered. This story was so BORING to me. It was told more of “these are facts in order” than an emotional connection for me. The characters weren’t particularly likable and the story was simple at best. Not a fan.

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