Sunday, November 28, 2021

Florence Adler Swims Forever

Florence Adler Swims Forever
  Florence Adler Swims Forever
Author:  Rachel Beanland
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2020. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1982132469 / 978-1982132460

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Gussie Feldman didn't enjoy swimming but she did like to lie on the wet sand, in the shadow of Atlantic City's Steel Pier, and wait for the tiniest ripple of a wave to wash over her."

Favorite Quote:  "Every family has its issues. I offer my family's up to you only as explanation for why I'm such a pain in the ass."

Florence Adler is a swimmer. She is training to swim the Channel. Something happens during a training swim, and Florence Adler drowns. In a book named for Florence Adler, this is sadly the extent of Florence's own story. Per the author's note, Florence is based on a member of the author's family. It is an homage to this individual such that their story may never be forgotten.

The book really is the story of Florence's family. Her parents. Her sister. Her niece. Her childhood friend who was perhaps more than a friend. A young woman who is a new addition to Florence's family. In the context of the loss of Florence, this book is the story of this family of flawed characters, their histories, and their futures. At the same time, it is a story of a time and a place - Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore and the impending Nazi threat. It is a story also of being Jewish in this time and place.

The stated plot of the book is that Florence dies. Florence's sister is in the hospital due to a high risk pregnancy. The family decides to keep Florence's death a secret until after the baby is form.

It takes a bit of reading to determine that with the actual plot of the book casts a broader net with the stories of each of the people in Florence's life. The start of the book is a challenge because I look for the stated story, and I find myself thinking about the "right" or "wrong" of the family's decision to keep the death a secret. Then, I settle in, and the characters become real. Getting involved in the individual stories takes me as the reader away from the "right" or "wrong" of the book's central premise. It just is.

Each chapter comes from the perspective of one of these individuals, bringing to life their emotions and context. Florence's parents Joseph and Esther struggle with mourning one daughter while trying to protect the other. Their story, however, goes much further back as other secrets emerge from their lives. Florence's sister Fannie is kept in the dark but suffers her own grief at what she thinks if Florence's desertion. Fannie's husband Isaac has secrets of his own that impact his own family and Fannie's family; his story only just touches Florence's. Gussie, Fannie's young daughter, is scared and confused by the adult world around her. Stuart, Florence's friend who hoped to be more, struggles with his own family expectations above and beyond his relationship with Florence. Anna, a guest in the Adler home, brings in the plight of the Jewish immigrants looking to escape the Nazi regime.

In some ways, there is a lot going on in this book. Yet, somehow, it works, and the characters and this family feel real. Even at the end, I find myself wondering. What happens when Fannie finds out? How does Simon reconcile with his decisions? How do Anna and her family survive the war? What happens next? I want to turn the page and keep the story going.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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