- Night Swimming
- Warner Books, 341 pp.
Wading, Not Drowning
What would you do if you went to your doctor for a routine check up only to discover that you had a year left to live?
In Robin Schwarz’s debut novel, Night Swimming, her protagonist, 253-pound, 34-year-old Charlotte Clapp is confronted with this startling revelation. Given that her mother too died of cancer, Charlotte decides the best course of action is to finally leave Hicksville USA (in this novel, Gorham, New Hampshire), and “live.”
Robbing the bank where she works of two million dollars, she fakes her own suicide and treks out to Hollywood – a childhood dream of hers, where she figures she may just run into her hero – Tom Selleck. Assuming the name of Blossom McBeal, which she takes on after attending the funeral of an old lady by the same name, Charlotte decides to reinvent herself.
Coughing up a million dollars cash for a luxury apartment in Los Angeles with a swimming pool (another lifelong dream of hers), she finds herself falling for the Adonis of a pool boy.
Buoyed up with hopes for potential love in the last 12 months of her life, Charlotte takes to swimming laps at night and gradually losing the pounds along with her inhibitions.
What Charlotte is unaware of though, is the doctor has made a mistake, mixing up her medical records with that of another patient with the same name. And naturally, she is also unaware of the fact that the police and the FBI are now on her tail in the wake of her bank robbery.
While this novel has a wonderful premise, it never really decides what it wants to be. Is it a mystery/suspense novel, a road trip novel, or a romantic comedy? As a “chick-lit” summer read, you can’t really beat this wacky, offbeat book, full of quirky characters, each more bizarre than the next.
But as a book that clearly attempts to address the issue of an inherently serious subject: what does a person do when confronted with his or her own mortality – it misses the mark, by a long shot.
That there happen to be two Charlotte Clapp’s is just one of a series of implausibilities in this novel that forces the reader to suspend their disbelief way longer than should be acceptable. So by the time Charlotte is eventually caught, we don’t really expect she will do serious time in jail, and sure enough yet another bizarre twist sees our heroine deftly side-stepping her comeuppance. Hint: The pool boy Adonis turns out to be a lawyer.
Overall, Night Swimming is a lighthearted look at one woman’s desperate need to reinvent herself. Schwarz has a sharp eye and a wicked sense of humor. But she stays in the shallow end, never venturing into deeper waters; leaving us with the sinking feeling of a missed opportunity, and reaching for the water wings.