The Night Swimmers

Louse Night Swimming Wissant

I like weird.

I like swimming.

I like stories about other writers.

And I like a good mystery.

So when I picked up Peter Rock’s new novel, a semi-autobiographical foray into all of the above, I signed on with enthusiasm.

Title is linked to Amazon and there are no spoilers ahead:

THE NIGHT SWIMMERS, Peter Rock. Soho Press/Penguin, New York. March, 2019. 263 pages.

“Beneath the surface of Lake Michigan there are vast systems: crosscutting currents, sudden drop-offs, depths of absolute darkness, shipwrecked bodies, hidden places…”

Oh delicious mystery. Who isn’t curious about what lies beneath?

It is the 1990’s and the twenty-something narrator has just broken up with his Canadian girlfriend, with whom he had been living in Montana. He is, presumably, the author–a 91iwHyTOoYL.jpgyounger Peter Rock.

Returning home to his parents’ second home on the Door to Peninsula of Wisconsin (Green Bay & Lake Michigan) Peter is looking for a soft place to fall so he can try to get his fledgling writing career off the ground.

In his mid-twenties, he finds he is no longer part of the younger bar-crowd, but he hasn’t crossed over to the young-married-with-children crowd either. He’s existing in the purgatory of unproven potential.

And so, he spends a lot of time in a small cabin on his parents’ property. It’s a small, quiet haven for writing.

At night, he goes out into Lake Michigan and swims for miles and miles. On just such a night, the narrator is startled to realize he is not swimming alone.

New widow, the middle-aged but attractive Mrs. Abel, also swims at night, always wearing a bathing cap and nothing else.

The two become companions of sort, and she encourages him to skip his Speedo, too, although she always seems to leave him wanting more–always with unasked questions forming in his mouth (always wanting other things as well, we presume.)

When Mrs. Abel disappears during one of their night swims, and later emerges with an incredible story about an underwater experience, Peter is hooked.

The older woman with the long graying braids becomes the young man’s obsession, although it is clear to the reader that the young man isn’t quite sure what their relationship is all about at all. Mrs. Abel is no cougar–she’s too subtle for seduction.

The book shifts ahead twenty years to recent times when the narrator, who is now the married father of two precocious little girls, reflects on those mysterious months with Mrs. Abel.

Using old journals, stories he reads his children, letters he once exchanged with an ex, poignant quotations only a writer could love, something called “psychic photography” and dips in an isolation tank, the narrator returns to his past to find out what happened to Mrs. Abel.

Moreover, he wants to make sense of the odd relationship he had with his partner in night swimming. To do so, he returns to the old cabin and resumes his night swimming to try to piece it all together.

All in all, I wanted to like this book, but by about the halfway mark, I started losing hope of it picking up or even turning around.

I kept looking for the promised suspense, and just found a narrator who would have benefited from therapy.

This is a big nothing-quiche, but it is presented on a lovely platter. If you read for lyrical prose and literary hobnobbery, have at it. If this is what literary is all about, I’ll happily remain among the (read the next phrase while looking down your nose)Ā provincial commercial-fiction readers.

As someone keeps journals and quotes herself, I enjoyed parts of this book, but it was just a bit too self-conscious and neurotic for this foxy writer chick.

Foxy Writer Chick Rating Scale – Two out of Five Foxes = meh




Happy reading, friends!


Susan J. Anderson

Foxy Writer Chick

3 thoughts on “The Night Swimmers

  1. It was probably his self indulgent project that he tossed into the world – to stroke his own ego and possibly dupe a few into purchasing…I see it happening to writers and musicians all the time…


    1. Great point. I will likely never pick up another book by Rock. Not sure why the publisher got behind this–literary snobbery and the Emporer’s New Clothes perhaps. But definitely an ego project for him.


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