Jed McClatchey and his sister, Callie, always thought of the Atkinsons --- if they thought of them at all --- as just some more summer people, the kind of privileged family that gathered around their own privileged family’s pool in the summers on Cape Cod. Jed, who had been a teenager back when Marcella Atkinson, her husband Anthony, and their daughter Toni had socialized with his parents, remembered Marcella as a distant, unattainable beauty, one who had sparked easy desire in his own adolescent heart.
So when Jed, sifting through boxes in the attic of his late parents’ Cape house, comes across a swimsuit he remembers Marcella wearing that summer, his curiosity is piqued. Why would his parents have kept Marcella’s swimsuit, lovingly wrapped up in a box? Jed, now an adult, is taking leave from a law practice he doesn’t much care about to help Callie, a young mother suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of a premature baby. He’s bored, lonely, and still haunted by memories of his dead parents: his mother, killed by an intruder, her murder never solved; his father, a victim of a one-car accident months later.
On a whim, Jed decides to confront Marcella, now divorced from Anthony, about his discovery. He’s not sure which surprises him more: her revelation that she had an affair with Jed’s father, or the power of his own desire for her now. The two embark on a passionate affair, as Jed struggles to balance his passion for Marcella, his obligation to his struggling sister, and his own ambivalence about the past.
In her debut novel, Holly LeCraw intricately demonstrates the interconnections of families and communities, especially one as tightly knit as the one on Cape Cod come summer. Her storytelling is confident and well-crafted, as she juxtaposes scenes from the past with those of the present, vividly demonstrating how characters, situations, and conflicts persist through time.
Tension and passion are intertwined in THE SWIMMING POOL, and desire, whether for a specific person or for a general place or moment of time or state of being, is a complicated and transient thing. “He loved her. It was true,” LeCraw writes. “But the love had been embroidered with hopes and memories and anger and now it was just plain love and it was simple and he was exhausted. It seemed a paltry kernel of a thing to offer her.” LeCraw’s characters all seem weary --- of caring for children, of maintaining status, of negotiating with the past. At times, they’re too tired even to see the truth of what’s right in front of them --- and that’s where tragedy threatens to slip in when they’re not looking. Tension and passion, love and loss --- those summer poolside parties obscured a tangle of complicated and conflicting emotions, knotty feelings that the next generation might untie, or might just make worse by adding their own strands to the mess.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011
The Swimming Pool