Knopf, Jul 14 2009, $25.95
When Philomena "Pip" Ash was nine months old, her parents entered her in a baby water class; she amazed everyone when, unlike the other kids who plopped and fell, she began smoothly moving through the water. Olympic coach Ernest K. Mankovitz trains Pip turning her into an unbeatable swimming robot who wins gold medals in three Olympic Games.
Over the years of her success, Pip’s older sister dies of cancer, her father is killed in a plane crash, and her mother collapses mentally with an endless string of nervous breakdowns. The pool is where Pip denies her ghosts, but she never learns to relate. However, as her career winds down, Pip finds herself increasingly dealing with the demons that haunt her as she can no longer sublimate her feelings by swimming.
Character driven, this is a super look at a person whose only psychological defense mechanism over the years of tragedy is swimming, but now with her career waning, even the pool is no longer a haven for her. Pip is terrific with her cursing about life’s unfairness as all the emotions she psychologically avoided by swimming away from them are igniting inside her now. With a candid look at real and metaphoric death (as this is not just the demise of a person) through the confused mocking lead character, whose convoluted ramblings can be difficult to follow, SWIMMING is a gold metal winner.