A family's secret may have harsh consequences in Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland
Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: DUE July 2020, 320 pages
Historical fiction, family saga, secrets, and a little romance. This debut novel set in 1934 Atlantic City is the story of a family shocked by the death of a youngest daughter as she was training to swim the English Channel (not a spoiler, it's the premise of the whole book). Florence's older sister Fannie is in the hospital with a very high risk pregnancy so mom decides she can't know about her sister's death. Oh my, what a choice.
I didn't know till reading the Author Notes at the end that the story is semi-autobiographical - Beanland is telling the story of her great-aunt. My main issue with the believability of the story was that central lie; maybe if the Author's Note was first, it would have helped me feel more empathetic throughout the story.
A Change of Perspective
The story presents the happenings of the next couple months from many perspectives - each chapter changes the first person perspective. That could be confusing, but it's handled very well and I wasn't confused at all. In fact, I appreciated the changes of perspective. The main characters are well developed and even the secondary ones are interesting. The character of the mom was one of the most difficult to like since she made the questionable decision to keep the secret. Good intentions, but is it the right decision? (Good book club fodder in that philosophical question.) However, her grief is well presented and believable - people do make bad decisions in the midst of grief.
The other main characters are Fannie, the older sister in the hospital, her daughter Gussie, and Anna, a German girl staying with the family for the summer. I liked spunky Gussie, the 7 year old who's trying to deal with the death of her favorite aunt when no adult wants to talk to her about it. I liked the slowly developing relationship between Anna and Stuart - it felt like it developed naturally. But, for me, the actual story in Florence Adler Swims Forever took a while to grab hold. Not exactly slow-paced, just somehow didn't draw me in right away. We don't really get to know much about Florence, the title character; what we do learn is told in memory/flashbacks. I didn't like Isaac, Fannie's husband, at all and I felt like the resolution of his storyline was.....unsatisfying. Then, the ending. Well, it wrapped up all the storylines, but the way Fannie's story ended felt incomplete (don't want to spoil). I feel like that this book is a strong family story that explores some interesting themes: how far will you go to protect a family member; what would you do to help a friend; how a family handles extreme grief. I think there's much to recommend this book.