Book Buzz: The Swimmers

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

At the community pool, obsessive lap swimmers adhere to a strict, unspoken social code. They stick to their lanes and keep an eye out for each other–especially Alice, who has been swimming laps here for 35 years. Her dementia doesn’t seem as big of a deal when she’s at the pool–in the water, she feels like herself again, and not just “another little old lady.”

A mysterious crack appears in the bottom of the pool overnight. Is the crack dangerous? Will the pool have to close for repairs? Suddenly, nothing seems certain for this community of fanatics who thrive on routine.

The first half is narrated by the swimmers themselves, a collective “we”; the second half is addressed to Alice’s daughter. In under 200 pages, Julie Otsuka has written a short novel, nearly a novella, that is lovely and surprisingly tender. The Swimmers is a book about memory, habits, and how a little social collapse can bring strangers together before it forces them apart again.

(originally published in Bellingham Alive, May, 2022)