Swim Back to Me Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Apr 5 2011
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Praise for Ann Packer’s Swim Back to Me
“As funny as it is sad. . . . Full of revelations . . . near perfection. . . . [A] lovely, masterful collection.”
—Mameve Medwed, Boston Globe
“Most readers know Ann Packer from her best-selling debut novel. Swim Back to Me is even better, richer, more insightful. Packer can break your heart—and she can mend it, too. Easing readers in with recognizable characters facing familiar situations . . . she then injects a detail that makes us see the situations in a whole new light. . . . This fine work [is] surprising and absolutely true.”
—Karen Holt, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Astute. . . . Anyone intrigued by the ways we both fail and save one another will find ample food for thought here.”
—Kim Hubbard, People
“Ann Packer has a talent for creating authentic, absorbing characters—and it’s on full display in Swim Back to Me.’
—Ladies’ Home Journal
“[Packer] illuminates the instant, in the darkest hour of grief, when the heart opens wider than ever before—and shows us a new way of being.”
—Pam Houston, More
“A novella and five stories limn with acuity and empathy the intricate negotiations and painful losses of family life. . . . [Packer’s] prose is deceptively simple, her insights always complex. . . . Touching, tender and true. . . . As rich and satisfying as Packer’s two fine novels.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] sterling collection. . . . Packer’s talents are evident. . . . Packer presents complex human relationships with unsentimental compassion.”
“Stunning. . . . Well-crafted and engaging. . . . These California stories are expansive and open-ended. It’s hard to let them go.”
—Sue Russell, Library Journal
Praise for Songs Without Words
“Packer’s voice [has] extraordinary authority . . . Compassionate, rich in solace.”
—Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review
“Engrossing, forgiving and quietly wise, Songs Without Words never makes a false step as Packer keeps both the pages and her readers’ minds turning until the very end.”
—Jill Smolowe, People
“As in The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, Packer makes the ripples from one act so involving you can’t pull away.”
Praise for The Dive from Clausen’s Pier
“Ann Packer knows just how to make a story build: the novel reveals a sure sense of pace and pitch, a brilliant ear for character . . . She has brought to intractable questions the energy of a humane novel that possesses, at its center, a searching emotional generosity.”
—Rob Nixon, The New York Times Book Review
“An intricately detailed, deeply felt, compelling and ultimately surprising portrait of a young woman . . . [whose] struggles with the demands of loyalty are moving and realistic . . . [A] wonderfully satisfying novel.”
—Jane Ciabattari, San Francisco Chronicle
“The trick to what Ms. Packer does lies in the utterly lifelike quality of her book’s everyday detail, and the secret, graceful ways in which that detail becomes revealing. . . . Her ear for dialogue is unerring.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
About the Author
Ann Packer is the author of two best-selling novels, Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, the latter of which received a Great Lakes Book Award, an American Library Association Award, and the Kate Chopin Literary Award. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Vogue, and Real Simple. Also the author of Mendocino and Other Stories, she lives in northern California with her family.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
10. Having spent my high school years in Palo Alto, in the late 60s, her descriptions of the place and time were spot-on. She captured the high schoolers trying to blend in with the Stanford students, the geography, the different areas of the town, the feel of the seasons, and the often effete snobbery of the professorial families. When she described an Eichler house, I knew I had been transported back in time.
9. Packer has conceived great characters, from angst-ridden teens to grieving mothers to narcissistic fathers to new fathers and loud-mouthed partners. Everyone in the stories has a unique personality with unique quirks.
8. Having just finished a book in which the death of an infant turned a family to a lifetime of alcoholism and despair, it was refreshing to see a woman move on after such an event, still cherish her lost baby, but move forward to love her new infant. I needed to hear that this was possible.
7. Best/worst description of a bladder infection. I hadn't read that before.
6. There are characters that come out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, yet stand out like jewels in the narrative: a man along the Walk for Mankind route, a mother of the bride with a To Do list that includes meditation for all the guests. These are the characters that keep stories from feeling contrived.
5. It's a lovely tour of California (and many places I know well, which made it especially entertaining to me): Palo Alto/Stanford in the 70s, the Bay Area, the shingled faculty club and homes of Berkeley, the foothills of Auburn. Go take a little literary tour. You'll enjoy it.
4. Some great relationships. Not great in that they work seamlessly, but great in their complexities and difficulties and concessions and refusals to concede. A daughter dealing with her crochety narcissistic father. Not fun, but dealing with it. A woman in her second marriage, having lost a child in her first, forging a new relationship with he new husband. A grieving mother trying to understand her lost son's best friend.
3. The affirmation that parents can learn to love (and see the poetry in) their kids' music.
2. Packer can turn a phrase with the best of them. Her sentences twist and turn smoothly. Her dialog is natural, yet unique to each character.
1. Packer ties the novella ("Walk for Mankind") with the final story ("Things Said or Done"), which, for me, gave it a continued life, some closure, and some new points to ponder. There are family jokes that transcend the decades, the things that bring warm moments even when it seems no warm moments are left. Does reading get any better than that?
While the author's writing style initially pulls you into each of the six stories it does not compensate for the unfulfilled feeling you get as a reader. There is truly no satisfactory resolution to any of the scenarios. It is as if the author were writing in her diary and relating events from her personal life experiences.......short little vignettes that unfold with no true beginning or end. Perhaps the reason Packer chose SWIM BACK TO ME as the title of her book is because the reader is left swimming in a sea of questions and must make it back to shore (and solutions) without any assistance from the writer. Guess that this reader is in dire need of some additional swimming lessons.
When Richard's 1970s story ended, I found that the story seemed to completely start over but I read on thinking it would relate back to the previous chapter. When it didn't, I checked the publisher's notes and, silly me, THIS IS NOT A NOVEL, it's a "collection of narratives" (why not call them short stories?) So THAT explained it and I continued on enjoying the stories. Maybe when it comes out in April it will have "Stories" on the cover.
There are six stories and I enjoyed each. "Molten" told of Kathryn who is deep in grief over her teen son, Ben's, tragic death. She tries to make sense of it all by listening to his CD collection. "Her Firstborn" is a beautifully written story about a couple expecting their first baby. I won't give away the plot line, but I must say that Packer skillfully writes the tale straddling the line between pathos and suspense. "Jump" is about a Urinary Tract Infection and how you can't always be sure you know who your coworkers are.
My favorite of the collection is "Dwell Time"; why hasn't Laura's new husband come home yet? Here Packer does an excellent writing job describing Laura's inner-narrative and fights of magical thinking while her worry and dread builds and builds.
The final story, "Things Said and Done" ties back to the first story of Richard and Sasha, but I won't reveal how because I wouldn't want to spoil how well Packer unfolds it all for the reader. What I found in "Swim Back To Me" was a wonderful set of interesting, moving, and well written stories.
`Walk for Mankind', the novella in this collection, just sings. It is a coming of age story but to just describe it as that would be like saying it's a beautiful day and to leave out what makes it beautiful: the smell of the greenery, the feel of a breeze, the sensation of the the sun on your skin and the overall feeling of beauty and abundance inspired by being part of this world.
The novella takes place in 1972 Palo Alto, California close to the Stanford campus. It is told from fifty-year old Richard's memories of his fourteenth summer. Sasha and Richard are both fourteen years old and are friends, the kind of friends who play scrabble, go to the beach, ride bikes together and play truth and dare. They have fun. Sasha is the more dominant one in the relationship and she has a real independent and wild streak to her that Richard lacks. Sasha decides that she and Richard should do a 20-mile Walk for Mankind and raise so much money that they are `heroes' of a sort. Just before the walk, Sasha meets Cal and begins a sexual relationship with him. Since Cal is a drug dealer, pot also enters the picture. Sasha starts smoking a lot of weed and Richard soon embraces it as well. Pot becomes a big deal for Richard as he "laughs the ocean-wave laughter of the stoned, up and down and down and up, and it was incredibly intense and at the same time locked away from the real world, safe behind a wall of glass".
Richard loves to go to Sasha's house where her free-wheeling parents are fun and exuberant. Richard lives with his stodgy father, a history professor, and a housekeeper. His mother left them ten months ago to `find herself' and Richard sees her once a month for a weekend. Richard's relationship with his father is distant and he loves Sasha's family as much as being with Sasha. There comes a time in their relationship, however, when sexuality enters and they begin to distance, not understanding one another and their new roles.
The underlying theme of this beautiful novella is the distance and pursuit of two adolescents who do not know themselves or each other and are trying to navigate the world of intimacy. This quickly turns into perceived betrayals which distance the two friends, leaving them in a place of anomie. They learn to perceive the treacheries, dreams and misfortunes that comprise life, songs in a dissonant key.
In `Things Said and Done' Sasha's family is revisited during the festivities of her brother's marriage to a woman much younger than him. Her parents are long divorced and Sasha has come to realize that her father is a narcissist. She is his emotional caretaker. She has left her wildness behind her and lives a staid life as an academic.
In `Molten' a mother grieves the death of her teen-aged son. "Her body had become a scale, a device for measuring grief." She has lost her grasp on life and tries to relive her son's days by listening to his rock music non-stop and finding meaning in the music and instrumentation he once listened to. She has moved away from her family and at a bereavement group "she felt molten. She didn't want friends, compassionate or otherwise. She wanted to scream in a padded room, scratch her arms till they bled."
`Jump' is a story about a shift supervisor at a copy store who has a urinary tract infection. Her car won't start and a co-worker drives her home. On the drive she finds out he is not who she thought he was and that they are both trying to escape from certain parts of their lives without success.
In `Dwell Time', a newly married woman has to deal with her husband's habit of just disappearing for days at a time, something he did in his first marriage but she did not know about. Should she leave him or can she find a way to make this marriage work? Interestingly, `dwell time' "is how long soldiers have between deployments". Could her husband think of their marriage as a war zone, and these disappearances be his way to find peace?
`The Firstborn' is a poignant story of a woman whose firstborn son died at five months from crib death. This destroyed her marriage. She is remarried now, pregnant and about to give birth to a child. The couple's fears and hopes are examined, along with her memories of her firstborn.
I am a lover of short stories to begin with, but I gather light when I read something as engaging and brilliant as this collection. Ann Packer has matured so much in her writing since The Dive From Clausen's Pier. She is well on her way to becoming a master.