The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Joshilyn Jackson

[asa book]0446579653[/asa] I’ve read a lot of books since I last put up a review. In three or four cases I really wanted to write something, but there just wasn’t time to gather my thoughts. And of course chaos has reigned supreme for so long I can hardly remember what plain busy feels like.

So here we are, talking about somebody else’s book for a change, and let me tell you, it’s a relief.

I’ve reviewed Joshilyn’s first two novels, both of which I really liked. I think it’s fair to say that with each novel she’s got her feet more firmly underneath herself, but in all her books there’s consistent evidence that she was born to write down stories. And she’s a southerner, born and bred. I think the two things are not unrelated. ((She’s got a website, if you’d like to explore, here.))

The first two novels had love stories at their center, but not exclusively. They are both also full of such clear observations of the nonsensical that I found myself laughing out loud now and then.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming has many things in common with Joshilyn’s earlier novels. First and foremost, the way women hold each other up, or down, as the case may be. Emotional complexity and really loud arguments are how many of these female characters communicate.

This new novel is about two sisters, Lauren and Thalia, their relationship to each other (primarily) to their mother, to Lauren’s daughter and to a friend of her daughter’s, Bet. It is also about Thalia’s relentless dislike of Lauren’s sweet, less-than-verbal husband ((Yes, he’s a Mathematician, in case you were wondering. So maybe I’m biased but at points I wanted to shake Thalia and tell her to leave the man be.)) Thalia does nothing by halves, and as the novel goes along we start to understand where that started and why.

Lauren and Thalia are adults still at odds with extreme childhood trauma. Thalia has coped by turning her anger into a high-speed life in the theater, always on the move, always ready to pick a fight. Lauren copes in the exact opposite way; she has a home and a husband and a daughter, she works as an artist out of the house, and she avoids confrontation and threats at al costs. But her past is always there, in the form of the occasional ghost who comes by. Most prominently the uncle who was killed in a hunting accident — until the night she wakes up to see one of her daughter’s closest friends standing next to the bed, soaking wet. Molly’s ghost walks to the window and Lauren follows her. What she sees sets a series of events in motion that drag the past into the present.

There are a few authors who focus on family or suburban drama, as it is sometimes called – condescendingly, in my opinion. It’s a genre that I like and read a lot of. I have a sense that Joshilyn is going to be one of the big names in that particular crowd. I am very curious to see what she comes up with next, but in the mean time I highly recommend The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I finished. This is one of those rare times I wished I belonged to a bookclub, because there are so many things to think and talk through.