Julie Otsuka Dives Into the Underground World of the Neighborhood Pool

By Julie Otsuka

I started swimming in earnest final August at an area Y.M.C.A., enrolling in a monthlong grownup swim class with a few ladies of their 70s. I knew the fundamentals — how to not die — however wished to study to swim laps. And so I started, poorly. Twice every week, I now go to my native pool. I wave good day to fellow swimmers in the identical time slot: the man with the pool noodle, the lady who swims half-laps in a tank high. In a interval marked by hamster-wheel-like habits, swimming has turn out to be my newest. Not like the privateness of different routines — writing, for instance — swimming is completed publicly. It’s a distinctly seen apply: You’re witnessed in your captivity and repetition, concurrently you witness others in theirs.

Julie Otsuka’s slim third novel, “The Swimmers,” begins, like her award-winning earlier e book, “The Buddha in the Attic,” within the first-person-plural perspective. Right here she narrates from the collective viewpoint of the avid swimmers who frequent an underground group pool. Collectively the swimmers are a bickering Greek refrain — an idiosyncratic forged united of their near-religiosity on the subject of the pool. Many seem maladapted to land: “There are those that would name our devotion to the pool extreme, if not pathological,” our narrators inform us. Most swimmers are recognized from the well mannered distance of one other pool mate: “Lane 3 breaststroker Mark,” “sidestroker Sydney.” When, every now and then, the narration slips into second particular person, the e book’s protagonist sharpens into focus: “You get up someday and you’ll’t even bear in mind your individual title (It’s Alice). However till that day comes you retain your eyes centered on that painted black line on the underside of your lane and also you do what it’s essential to: You swim on.”

The swimmers’ idyll breaks when a mysterious crack seems on the backside of their beloved pool. Right here the tone shifts to the formality of a information report. Specialists, the one characters given full names, try to clarify the crack’s provenance. “‘This factor is unprecedented,’ says Brendan Patel, professor of structural engineering on the polytechnic throughout city. U.S. Geological Survey scientist Christine Wilcox says it’s potential that the crack is the results of an underground microtremor too weak to be detected by native seismic displays.” Temporary quotes give the textual content the veneer of nonfiction, and maintain the narrative at arm’s size, reasonably than pull you shut as fiction usually makes an attempt to.

The crack turns into cracks. The swimmers develop more and more anxious. The fractures are personified, imagined from all sides, described by our refrain each poetically (there may be hypothesis that “the crack opens up onto a second and deeper world that lies simply beneath the floor of ours. An alternate and maybe more true world with its personal underground pool stuffed with sooner, extra enticing individuals in less-stretched-out fits who nail their flip turns each time”) and neurotically: Some swear the newer cracks “are thicker than their predecessors, with darker middles and fewer uniform edges, whereas others look surprisingly bloated (though in fact, we remind ourselves, they are underwater).”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/11/books/assessment/julie-otsuka-the-swimmers.html Julie Otsuka Dives Into the Underground World of the Neighborhood Pool

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