This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month The Night Swimmers by Peter Rock.
A young man and a mysterious 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.
— Matt K.
A strange and sonorous book, Peter Rock’s The Night Swimmers
captures the eeriness of deep water — its competing currents and sudden shifts between warm and cold, the swimmer’s combined sense of inconsequentiality and escape from the strictures of time. Early on, the novel’s unnamed narrator recalls: "I imagined all the lost drowned bodies, worn down by currents, nibbled by fish caught in the weather of that deep water, of that zone between top and bottom. That is where they often reside, the dead, sliding through the currents."
Constant but unknowable, the black waves of The Night Swimmers
are not scenic; they’re a repository of lost and hidden things: ghost ships, suicides, shoals, grief, intentions, youth. For the narrator, the water is a locus of anxiety, aimlessness, desire, erasure, and all of the mysteries, big and small, that occupy him as he tries to identify who he is and what his life should contain.
On its surface, The Night Swimmers
is about a man trying to reconstruct a strange series of events that occurred in his twenties, but its primary preoccupation is far less whodunit than Why?
and What does that say about me?
It’s a self-indulgent project, made even more so by Rock’s inclusion of autobiographical materials like photos, photocopies, and art, but that’s not a slight. One of the reasons we write and read is to access the internal scripts that govern our lives and the thoughts and actions of others. Rock’s use of deep water and night swimming as metaphors for searching, discovery, and of all we can’t know is apt. If the symbolism feels obvious, this device is more than compensated for by the beauty of Rock’s prose and his complex, surprising weaving of ephemera and literary allusions into the plot.
notes, “Part page-turner and part aesthetic treatise, Rock’s latest is, like the currents of the Great Lakes, subtle and haunted, deeply complex and ‘quietly...sinister.’” If you’re seeking a book to get lost in, The Night Swimmers
is worth the dive.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month here