After I finished This Is The Water, I went over to Goodreads to see what others are saying about it. And the overwhelming response seems to be that people want fewer details about swimming.
I want there to be MORE details about swimming.
At its best, this book is a close look at perfectionism. The main character(s) wishes she had the perfect marriage (she doesn’t). She wishes that she were the perfect mother (she’s not). She wishes that she had perfect beauty (nope). All of this striving takes place in the context of a children’s swim team, where the kids are working daily to acquire perfect form and achieve the perfect time, to win big without celebrating, to lose without crying, to fit into the perfect suit that looks right and fits right and propels them to new achievement.
However, the compelling swimming storyline is tangled together with a serial killer storyline. A serial killer, known to the reader, is sitting in the stands thinking serial killer thoughts and planning terrible things. I don’t know why this has to be a serial killer book. Perhaps it is to show that you never really know what’s under the surface of a person (Get it? Swimming? Under the surface of the water?). In any case, it feels unnecessary to me, and I don’t think that the serial killer goings-on are fully believable.
(But here’s an important takeaway: if you know that someone is murdering people at rest stops along the highway at night, PLEASE stop to pee at McDonalds instead).
The other interesting thing that some readers are discussing is the writing style. The author starts every section – sometimes every paragraph – with “This is…” Here’s an example:
This is the facility. The long shafts of sunlight that come in through the windows and hit the water on sunny days. The showers whose pressure is weak, whose tiles need brush-cleaning in the grout. This is Dinah after her daughter Jessie doesn’t win the race. Dinah is sitting back down on the bleachers in the stands. She is comparing the time to the last time Jessie swam that event. She is telling herself at least her daughter beat her previous record. This is how much she beat it by: one one-hundredth of a second.
This is the racing suit some of the swimmers wear. It feels like the skin of a shark, when rubbed the wrong way. Rubbed the right way it’s smooth and gives you the feeling that you can beat your old times, that you can beat anyone’s times….
Once I sank into the novel, this cadence didn’t bother me. It is actually a unique way to shift perspectives and to make the reader feel like SHE is in the stands watching things happen. But it does remind me a bit of a children’s book my boys read when they were preschoolers, called Pizza Pat.
Pizza Pat is a twist on the nursery rhyme, "This Is the House That Jack Built," and it has lines like this one:
This is the sauce all gooey and gloppy that covered the dough all stretchy and floppy that lay in the tray that Pat bought.
And it repeats, over and over, with a new “This is…” line on each page. Unfortunately, I have that rhyme back in my head after a nice 8-year hiatus, and I am filled with a tiny bit of rage.
While I think that this book is trying to be too many things at once, I did enjoy it. It was a relaxing read after a trying week. It would be great for a long plane ride (but not a car trip, especially if you plan to pee at rest stops along the way).