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Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw

Some books that I read draw me in so thoroughly that the struggles, hopes, fears, and tragedies of the characters become my own. I feel linked to those characters, emotionally invested in them, and I continue to read in the hopes that they will resolve their problems in the end. Then, there are other books that, during the process of reading them, make me want to reach into the pages and shake some sense into the characters. I become impatient with the blindness of those characters, irritated with their inability to see what is right before them. The Swimming Pool belongs to that latter group.

The writing of The Swimming Pool was very deep, and I often felt that the author was really walking a fine line, but I also felt that, ultimately, she crossed it. I could certainly identify with why the characters felt as they did, but their emotions sometimes just struck me as over the top. To be fair, as a reader, we are very much inside the heads of these characters, and it's fair to say that if we could actually be inside the head of another human being--say, our neighbor--we might find that what's in there is shockingly more dramatic than what is on the outside. Still, while I think the psychology described was conceivable, I couldn't suspend my disbelief, particularly when it came to the character of Callie. It is so obvious that she is just not right, and yet her brother and husband don't do anything about it. While I can understand wanting to bury your head in the sand when faced with something unpleasant, I found myself becoming really angry with Jed and with Billy for their inertia.

Which leads me to the real problem I had with this book: I just didn't connect with any of the characters. There was no point where I felt like I was really seeing things through their eyes. Instead, I felt like an observer. I couldn't really sympathize with any of the characters, and so their behavior was just frustrating. I'm not sure any of the characters were meant to be entirely sympathetic, but they pretty much all felt just very self-indulgent to me. This was so true that when a big secret is revealed, I was utterly unsurprised by it. And, yet, I didn't actively dislike the characters either, really. This is where the book really failed for me. By leaving me unable to engage with the characters, either by liking them or disliking them, I was ultimately indifferent to the novel as a whole.

The plot was also, to me, quite contrived. It felt like each event that happened was created specifically to enhance the drama even more. I would have found it a lot more interesting had more of the events struck me as coincidental. Instead, it felt to me as if the novel was written in such a way that its outcome was preordained and everything that happened before it was a building block in that construction. While I certainly think that most authors have a conclusion in mind when they write, it is necessary for me, as a reader, to feel like the plot grows organically and for it to take me in unexpected directions. That didn't happen for me with this book because everything felt rather formulaic. LeCraw does write well, but her writing is overshadowed by the shortcomings of this novel.


  1. I just finished reading the book. My thoughts are basically like yours. I will be posting my thoughts today if you are interested. But to be fair, this was not a chick lit book. It had a literary feel to it. Thanks for your honesty.

  2. I get the feeling that it was aiming for literary chick lit. I do like some chick lit, but I hate the negatives attached to it. Regardless, I just felt this book fell flat in its attempts, whatever they were. I just couldn't connect with the characters.