Monday, March 01, 2010

Swimming by Nicola Keegan

It often gets said (by me, even) that fiction writing should make the familiar unfamiliar or it should make the unfamiliar familiar...but this is a novel that makes a case for letting the unfamiliar remain unfamiliar. What I mean is the protagonist is extreme--an Olympic swimmer who is not just great but once-in-a-lifetime, super-great---and the impulse might be to take this character who gets to have experiences that most of us don't and normalize her (making her more familiar) in lots of other ways, like through her personal life. But no, her personal life is extreme (a lot of tragedy). So you might try to create a heavy dose of realism through style or other details--but no, the style is zany, sometimes "the" gets dropped in the weirdest places, and the way of describing feelings is comic and nutty and really great. If you ask ten people what makes good fiction, nine and a half of them will say relate-ability. They want to relate to the character. Well, there's some of that here--she is a really vulnerable character, and we can all relate to that, but mostly she's weird and her life is nothing like mine, and the novel does nothing to make me believe this could happen to me...and yet I was moved all the same. I didn't need her to remind me of me; I liked that I was meeting someone different and my empathy kicked in just fine...

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