Wednesday, August 22, 2007

REVIEW: Swim to Me, by Betsy Carter

Swim to Me, by Betsy Carter. Published 2007. Click on the cover to buy. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

Swim to Me is a light-as-air story about a troubled family whose members have to find their way as the family unit dissolves. Fifteen year old Delores Walker's father walks out one night, and two years later she leaves home to become a mermaid at a tourist trap in Weekee Wachee, Florida; the book follows her adventures and those of her bitter mother Gail, her withdrawn, taciturn father Roy and her bouncy baby brother Westie. The story is colorful and dramatic at times and Carter does a good job of showing the delicate family dynamic that Delores has to navigate once her family has disintegrated. She is particularly effective at illustrating a very tense mother-daughter relationship fraught with resentment and a stifling sense of claustrophobia. I've seen mother-daughter relationships like theirs play out in real life and it's not pretty- and Carter captures that push and pull pretty well, within the limits of her writing ability. I thought that while Delores was likeable enough and someone I wanted to root for, her parents came off poorly. They're portrayed as ignorant oafs and Carter's writing doesn't do much to help. Gail was all insecurity and envy and Roy barely registered a personality at all. Toddler Westie was just a cute cypher- he seemed to function more as a symbol of the family or of Dolores's own innocence and idealism, and a heavy-handed one at that. To Carter's credit there is no sugary reunion to be had for the Walker clan but they do all learn to carve out space for themselves and each other.

If the writing had been better and the characters a little more fleshed out the book would have been a much better experience for me. For me the writing was characterized by the sort of aggressive mediocrity you find in certain kinds of light-reading magazines and I can't say I was surprised to learn from the back cover that Carter is a contributor to O : The Oprah Magazine. So I guess if you like Oprah you will probably like this book. Neither is exactly awful but if you're looking for a solid, literary good read, Swim to Me isn't it.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Anonymous said...

Hi -- thanks for the helpful review! Doesn't sound like my kind of thing, but at least I know that now.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree that this book is not a literary read - very unsatisfying. Glad to read your assessment after finding too many glowing reviews.

Marie Cloutier said...

I was a little surprised at how great the reviews were, too. Seemed to me like dysfunctional-family chick lit, not a masterpiece!