Now that I’m back in the blogging swing of things, I have a confession to make. I did not read very much over the break. I had high hopes with the time off work and plane flights and whatnot, but instead I did a lot of nothing and enjoyed every minute of it. There was eating, movie watching and tons of playing games with Andrew’s family in Memphis. Then visitors took over our apartment for New Year’s and as fun as it was it did not encourage reading. In total, all I accomplished was finishing Swimming Toward the Ocean and reading one manuscript for work.
Oh well, on to my review of Swimming Toward the Ocean by Carole Glickfield. The book follows the life of a Russian immigrant family in 1950s New York and at the center of the story is the mother Chenia Arnow. She’s feisty, inquisitive and fairly Old World. When at 45 years old, she finds out she is pregnant with her third child, Chenia attempts to commit suicide. Instead she is rescued and her youngest daughter Devorah becomes the narrator for the novel, which traces the trials and tribulations of the Arnow family, complete with multiple affairs, financial issues, tragedy and love.
I have conflicting feelings on Swimming Toward the Ocean. On one hand, while I was reading it, I had a hard time putting it down. Devorah is a precocious child, which I enjoy in a narrator, and she puts a quirky spin on the events that unfold. In fact, Devorah and Chenia’s personalities are the bright spot in the book. They are both spunky, exhibit a great curiosity about the world, and stand out from the crowd as eccentric but likable characters.
However, as much as I enjoyed Devorah’s voice, I didn’t completely buy her as the narrator. She describes events and thoughts that she would have no way of knowing. Plus, the book has a decent amount of sex, mostly by her parents and mostly not with eachother, and the idea that their daughter is narrating makes it all a little creepy.
And as I just alluded to, infidelity abounds. I understand that cheating is an all-too-common occurrence in real world marriages, but Swimming Toward the Ocean almost makes it seem like being faithful is impossible. Maybe I’m just being naive, but it’s not a perspective I love.
I had one other minor issue with the book: formatting. I’m not sure if it’s just because I read it on my Kindle, but there were no chapters. The book was just broken into a few huge chunks, but with such a long book I prefer when there are natural breaks and stopping points. On a smaller scale, many paragraphs were jumbled, with the words and sentences in the wrong order. I could eventually figure out what was meant, but it was still an annoying problem to have. Formatting is not Carole Glickfield’s fault though.
Overall, if you do read Swimming Toward the Ocean I would do it for the complex, compelling characters. They drive the sometimes winding story.