upstart press, 2015
paperback, thank you, Shannon!
This book was sent to me some time back, but I've held off posting since it wasn't due to be released until this month.
Where the last book I posted about was more of a manly man's kind of read, Swimming in the Dark is absolutely focused on strong women. No kickass heroines here, although the power, the determination, and the actions of the main characters once they all come together toward a unified purpose is quite amazing.
Swimming in the Dark is set in Ms. Richardson's home country of New Zealand and it begins with a local family with a bad reputation. Mom goes through men like water, the boys are into criminal activities, and then there are the two sisters. The older one is Lynette, who left home early on to make something of herself and has succeeded quite nicely. The younger is Serena who is still in school. Because of the family's reputation, Serena has very little in the way of friends, but she's not there to win any popularity contests. She's bright, and with the encouragement of one of her teachers, Ilse Klein, she studies hard and reads widely, and starts believing that perhaps she might be the one member of her family that makes it to university. But, of course, trouble strikes, and Lynette finds out during a phone call with her mom that Serena's gone missing and has been gone for three weeks. Mom figures she just ran off, so didn't call the police for two weeks, but the law didn't take Serena's disappearance too seriously; nor did anyone else. Lynette returns to her troubled family and is understandably angry:
"...if it had been a dentist's daughter or a lawyer's daughter or the fucking mayor's daughter it would have been different. And if it was one of those kids missing, they'd be doing something, all right. The fucking TV cameras would be there. They'd be out in their thousands, there'd be fucking church prayer meetings. 'Oh, we're so concerned, oh, this wonderful girl, oh, we're doing our very best. We'll bring her home.' "But nobody is really looking for Serena -- except her sister and the person who caused her to disappear. What he doesn't know is that she's been found at a most critical moment -- and that's a good thing because life could start getting very much worse for her and for her protectors if he ever finds out.
The basic story here is a good one and really emphasizes how women can find strength from deep within themselves when they must. It also explores the abuse of power, especially when that power is in the hands of someone a person, and most especially a child, should be able to count on for help. It also reveals that regardless of family background, and despite the past that never leaves you, it is possible to dust off one's boots and pull yourself up by the straps to carve out a new life for yourself. All of the above comes through loudly and clearly. Yet at the same time, this novel has way too much focus on the past, bringing in way too much backstory for it to flow as smoothly as it could have. Take the case of Gerda Klein, Ilse's mother. I totally understand that the author uses Gerda's very troubled past to serve her well in the present, but in doing so, she offers page after page after page of Gerda's horrific past, so much so that it actually tends to detract from the contemporary story. And that's such a shame! This book could have used some judicious editing -- as it stands, it's so muddled with long-lasting flashbacks -- I probably would have broken things up differently so things were a little more organized to make the story flow.
If you enjoy stories about strong women and how they surmount their personal obstacles, Swimming in the Dark will be right up your alley. Don't expect the usual straight narrative, and it does get to be a bit boggy here and there, but even so, I love how Ms. Richardson managed to create worthwhile heroines without resorting to the typical badassness that seems to be the norm since Lisbeth Salander made her first appearance in print. Cheers to the author for doing it her own way!