Philomena, nicknamed Pip by her competitive swimming teammates, shows talent in the pool but at little else. Beset by family tragedy, she throws herself into improving her times and catches the attention of legendary coach Ernest K. Mankovitz who trains her for Olympic gold. But what happens after the glory when she finally has to face her demons?
As someone who got my Red Cross advanced swimmer certification at 11 and who watches every swimming world championships and Olympics without fail, I thought I would love this story about a Kansas girl made good. I didn’t. In fact, I found myself getting very impatient and annoyed with the stream of consciousness first person narration and the heavily stylized, fragmented prose. Author Keegan never made me care about any of the characters besides Pip and dwelt way too long on Pip’s tragic childhood – there’s nearly 100 pages of irreverent but often incoherent musings on death, religion and not getting her period before Pip starts taking swimming seriously (although I did like the first chapter where Pip swims confidently at 9 months old).
And then Pip’s actual rise to greatness feels very muted. We do get a lot of training details and Pip’s struggle with sugar addiction (hey – I can relate), but the championships go by in haze. We don’t even know what races she competes in – a strange omission indeed. And I know this is fiction set in a fictional swimming universe, but the novel makes a big deal about the East German swimmers being gone by the 88 Seoul Olympics when in fact they dominated, getting 10 of the 15 available gold medals.
And don’t get me started on the downer of an ending. This one just wasn’t for me after all.
SWIMMING is now available in hardcover.