Peter Rock's gorgeous exploration of his young adulthood in Wisconsin in the summer of 1994 is perfectly realized in his autobiographical novel, The Night Swimmers. The narrator strikes up a companionable friendship with a widow who lives up the road from his parents house as they share a love of night swimming. Rock so expertly depicts the confused unease of a young person trying to navigate relationships, it's excruciating in its awkwardness, but also beautiful in its humanness. While their relationship strikes him as odd, it becomes odder still when the widow disappears. Twenty years later, looking back on this part of his life, the narrator tries to untangle the mystery tied up with this woman and this summer; yet all the emotions, nostalgia and childhood memories just serve to cloud his understanding. Rock is fearless in exposing his character's failings, but better yet is the way he tells the story of the transformation from hesitant, wary youth to open, honest adult, while the road between is littered with the twin dangers of pain and rejection. Beautifully done, The Night Swimmers is a complex, layered coming-of-age tale that digs deep to deliver its hard-fought wisdom. Brilliant. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
A young man and a mysterious young widow spend their evenings swimming in Lake Michigan, until she disappears. Years later, the narrator reconstructs their relationship with the help of photographs, texts, and other remnants of that period, seeking answers in this unsettling, semiautobiographical novel from one of Portland’s best writers. Recommended By Matt K. , Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
“Swimming at night, to compare its slipperiness to that of a dream would be to ignore the work of staying afloat, the mesmerism brought on by the rhythm, the repetition of the strokes.”
Beneath the surface of Lake Michigan there are vast systems: crosscutting currents, sudden drop-offs, depths of absolute darkness, shipwrecked bodies, hidden places. Peter Rock’s stunning autobiographical novel begins in the ’90s on the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin. The narrator, a recent college graduate, and a young widow, Mrs. Abel, swim together at night, making their way across miles of open water, navigating the currents and swells and carried by the rise and fall of the lake. The nature of these night swims, and of his relationship to Mrs. Abel, becomes increasingly mysterious to the narrator as the summer passes, until the night that Mrs. Abel disappears.
Twenty years later, the narrator — now married with two daughters — tries to understand those months, his forgotten obsessions and dreams. Digging into old notebooks and letters, as well as clippings he’s preserved on the “psychic photography” of Ted Serios and scribbled quotations from Rilke and Chekhov, the narrator rebuilds a world he’s lost. He also looks for clues to the fate of Mrs. Abel, and begins once again to swim distances in dark water.
“Part page-turner and part aesthetic treatise, Rock’s (Spells, 2017, etc.) latest is, like the currents of the Great Lakes, subtle and haunted, deeply complex and ’quietly…sinister’; his readers, like his swimmers, ought to know ’that the currents of the subsurface are likely to be moving.’” Kirkus Reviews
“Haunting, elegiac…the book’s moody sense of hidden depths and dangers will intrigue those open to an atmospheric and contemplative novel.” Publishers Weekly
“Peter Rock has written a weird and haunting story about a younger man and an older woman who like to swim in the dark. Happily The Night Swimmers is no male coming of age story. Instead their secret nightly practice in a dark and foreboding lake shimmers as a queer refusal for either of them to grow up right.” Eileen Myles, author of Afterglow
“I sat down to read Peter Rock’s new novel, The Night Swimmers, and didn’t get up again until I’d finished, heart in throat, tears in eyes, mind spinning with all the things this kaleidoscopic book is about.” Susan Choi, author of My Education
“Among the many pleasures of this riveting book is its intertextual nature: stitched through the story are old letters to a past lover, new emails from the past lover, the diary of a dead painter, a literary rejection note, and other bright scraps. The Night Swimmers is a beautiful delving, a rapturous dive into the mysteries of ordinary life.” Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
About the Author
Peter Rock is the author of nine previous works of fiction, including My Abandonment, which won the Alex Award and was adapted into the film Leave No Trace, directed by Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone). He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and is a professor of creative writing at Reed College. He lives in Portland with his wife and two daughters.