The Swimming Pool

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Marcella Atkinson was a married woman when she fell in love with Cecil McClatchey, himself a married father of two. On the same night their romance abruptly ended, Cecil’s wife was found murdered.
Seven summers later, Marcella is divorced and estranged from her daughter, mired in grief and guilt. But when Cecil’s grown son, Jed, returns to the Cape and finds Marcella’s bathing suit buried in his father’s closet, this relic of the past ...

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The Swimming Pool

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Marcella Atkinson was a married woman when she fell in love with Cecil McClatchey, himself a married father of two. On the same night their romance abruptly ended, Cecil’s wife was found murdered.
Seven summers later, Marcella is divorced and estranged from her daughter, mired in grief and guilt. But when Cecil’s grown son, Jed, returns to the Cape and finds Marcella’s bathing suit buried in his father’s closet, this relic of the past sets in motion a passionate affair. In this twisting, sensuous novel of  devotion and infidelity, mistakes of the past must rise to the surface. 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A complex, astonishingly well-crafted, and completely compelling debut.” —Anita Shreve

“Holly LeCraw weaves timelines, storylines and relationships with the skill of a master storyteller. Her debut novel is a love story, a tale of a dysfunctional family and a mystery, all packed into one lovely book.” –The Tampa Tribune

“Smart. . . . Vivid. . . . Ambitious. . . . Effectively illustrates how the past can haunt the lives of those left living.” —The Boston Globe
“This hazy-hot novel, set on Cape Cod, chills to the bone.” —People 
“Atmospheric and intriguing. . . . Another unconventional take on love emerges from The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw. Though set on Cape Cod, the ominous tone brings this to a different level of summer read. The heroine Marcella had an affair years earlier with a married man and now gets passionately involved with his grown son. Intricately woven and well-crafted.” —The Daily Beast
The Swimming Pool is more than an auspicious debut. Holly LeCraw’s first novel is gripping, passionate, and beautifully written from start to finish, a moving chronicle of two damaged families struggling to free themselves from a complex web of secrets and lies.” —Tom Perrotta
“The suburban afflictions that are drowning these characters make [The Swimming Pool] difficult to put down.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A family drama so visceral it’s hard to believe it’s not an autobiography.” —The Daily Beast
“LeCraw moves the story along at a nice clip, unpacking scenes and returning to them from different perspectives.” —The New York Times Book Review
The Swimming Pool is as riveting and psychologically complex as Hitchcockian film noir. LeCraw displays perceptiveness and intelligence in weaving together a tale of entangled lies, complicity, betrayals, and unstoppable consequences.” —Amy Tan
“A fearless debut novel full of fresh insights and casually elegant writing. . . . Wonderful.” —Atlanta Magazine
“[LeCraw’s] storytelling is confident and well-crafted, as she juxtaposes scenes from the past with those of the present, vividly demonstrating how characters, situations, and conflicts persist through time.” —Bookreporter  
“Engrossing. . . . Set at the overlap between Updike and Cheever countries, on the Connecticut coast and Cape Cod.” —The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)
“LeCraw’s characters are well-drawn and her writing fluid. . . . The back-and-forth through time of the narrative works amazingly well. And the heartbreaking progress of Callie’s depression creates nail-biting suspense.” —Edmonton Journal
“This exceptionally complex and accomplished novel does not read like the work of a beginning writer. With a strong underlying theme of longing woven throughout, LeCraw's work skillfully takes these characters through varying emotional journeys. An insightful piece, not just for beach or airplane reading. An author to watch.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“The kind of dark, thorny, complex novel I love. . . . The Swimming Pool is truly a knockout.” —Caroline Leavitt   
“Seasoned by a cast of refreshing-yet-familiar characters and set against the backdrop of summer life by the sea.” —Marie Claire
“An insightful, compelling examination of love and betrayal. Powerful and page-turning.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“Every sentence drips with delicious deeper meaning.” AARP Magazine
“A love triangle with Oedipal implications crosses generations. . . . LeCraw’s serpentine debut offers a searing blend of intrigue and desire.” ­Booklist
“A riveting family story that will hold the reader enthralled from the very first page. With great suspense, Holly LeCraw skillfully orchestrates the collision course of a present-day love affair with the dark mysteries of a family’s past. She is a wonderful writer.” —Jill McCorkle
“Under Holly LeCraw’s spell, what could have been pure pulp is instead a passionate and suspenseful family drama and murder mystery. . . . Although LeCraw’s descriptive prose is sensual and worth savoring, readers will whip through The Swimming Pool, eager to find out what really happened on the night of Betsy’s murder. . . . How thrilling it is to anticipate what [LeCraw] will come up with next.” —BookPage
“Strong writing keeps the reader sucked in. . . .  It’s a story of deep and searing love, between siblings and lovers, but most powerfully between parents and their children.” —Publisher’s Weekly
The Swimming Pool would have knocked me over if Holly LeCraw already had a shelf full of prize-winning books to her credit. What an intelligent, beautifully plotted, intriguing and un-put-downable story about family secrets that interlock and haunt. I was totally captivated and lost in admiration for this masterful novel.” —Elinor Lipman

Publishers Weekly
Strong writing keeps the reader sucked in to LeCraw's painful family drama debut. The lovely Marcella is reeling from tragedy; her ex-husband, Anthony, has sent Toni, their only daughter, away to boarding school and on to college. The man with whom Marcella had an affair, Cecil McClatchey, dies in a car accident soon after his wife, Betsy, is murdered. Amid the wreckage is Cecil's daughter, Callie, fighting for her sanity with two young children, and his son, Jed, who, desperate to fill the void left by the death of his parents, seeks answers from Marcella only to begin a tortured love affair with her as she drowns in guilt, struggling to find some meaning to hold on to. As Marcella comes closer to the truth about Betsy's murder and Cecil's death, and mindful that she is now the lover of Cecil's son, she struggles and fails to gather strength enough to make any decision, right or wrong. It is a story of deep and searing love, between siblings and lovers, but most powerfully, between parents and their children. (Apr.)
Library Journal
LeCraw's thoughtful debut novel tells of two families whose lives are entwined by tragedy, secrecy, and scandal. Marcella Atkinson's heart was broken the night her affair with Cecil McClatchey ended and his wife was murdered. Never entirely cleared as a suspect in her killing, Cecil himself died soon after. Years later, her own marriage destroyed by the affair, Marcella is again thrown into contact with the McClatchey family when her daughter Toni (ignorant of her mother's adultery) is employed by Cecil's daughter, Callie, who for her own reasons must seek solace with her brother Jed in their family's summer home on Cape Cod. Jed's discovery of Marcella's old swimsuit in a closet leads him to her and to an entirely new relationship. VERDICT This exceptionally complex and accomplished novel does not read like the work of a beginning writer. With a strong underlying theme of longing woven throughout, LeCraw's work skillfully takes these characters through varying emotional journeys. An insightful piece, not just for beach or airplane reading. An author to watch.—Julie Kane, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews
LeCraw's remarkably confident first novel begins seven years after an unsolved murder and explores the ripple effect both of decisions that may have caused the murder and its aftermath. Cecil McClatchy was away on a business trip when his wife Betsy was murdered in their Atlanta home, but he was clearly a suspect. Months later Cecil died in a car accident and the case has never been solved. Now Cecil's grown children are spending the summer at the McClatchy summer place on Cape Cod. Daughter Callie has chosen to recover there after the difficult birth of her second child. Callie's brother Jed has taken a leave from his legal career to stay with her since her husband can only commute from his own career on weekends-an example of LeCraw's sometimes unconvincing plotting. In the attic Jed finds a bathing suit he knows was not his mother's but belonged to a Cape neighbor, Marcella Atkinson, on whom he once had an adolescent crush and whose college-age daughter Toni is currently working for Callie as a nanny. Soon Jed is at her doorstep in Connecticut asking why the bathing suit turned up at his house. Marcella, long divorced from her seemingly aloof husband Anthony, confesses that she and Cecil had an affair, that she knows he was innocent of murder because they were together. In fact that very weekend Cecil had told her his decision to stay in his marriage; after Betsy's death, he made Marcella promise not to acknowledge the affair to protect his children from further pain. Soon Jed and Marcella begin their own secret affair complicated by Toni's obvious crush on Jed. Meanwhile Callie sinks into dangerous postpartum depression exacerbated by unresolved grief over the loss of her parents. Every character feels guilt or at least regret, some with more reason than others. Whether open or suppressed, passion rules events, but this is not a murder mystery; instead LeCraw reveals the complex moral and psychological mystery within all relationships.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307474445
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/19/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 687,497
  • Product dimensions: 7.78 (w) x 5.24 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Holly LeCraw was born and raised in Atlanta. She now lives outside Boston with her husband, journalist Peter Howe, and their three children. Her short fiction has appeared in various publications and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

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Read an Excerpt


Bodies, bodies. The beach was crowded, Marcella had not expected all these people everywhere--she had forgotten it was Saturday, forgotten, even, that it was June. Today, after Anthony's phone call, she had come here gulping for broad sky, a long horizon, a vast and indifferent emptiness, but instead the beach was alive with babies crying and children running and their parents yelling or laughing or just watching, with that look of contentment she faintly remembered from a long time ago--

She veered toward the tide line, away from the massed umbrellas and beach blankets, going through a swath of tiny shells. They crunched beneath her feet, but she did not alter her path.

Anthony had said, "I've got some news." His voice had been odd, solicitous and pained at the same time, and when he had said it, news, her throat had caught and she had thought again that she hated the phone. "Toni has gotten a job. Babysitting."

"Babysitting! Our Antonia?" She laughed with crazy relief, see, you worry for nothing--

And then he told her where.

"What?" she whispered, her laughter gone, gone. "Anthony. You can't let her."

"Chella, what the hell am I supposed to say?" There was a pause and then he went on more quietly, grimly, "She found the job herself. She didn't tell me ahead of time. We like shows of initiative."

Marcella didn't keep in touch with anyone from Cape Cod. It was Anthony's place, it always had been, and when they divorced it had seemed natural to leave it, too, entirely. She hadn't even known Callie McClatchey, Cecil's daughter, was getting married. Hadn't known Callie had not one but two children--Cecil's grandchildren, and Betsy's, too, whom they would never see.

Anthony said, "The McClatchey girl does need someone to help her, I suppose--"

"Stop it. Please."

"I'm sorry," he had said. "I'm sorry." And she had known he was. He was not a consciously cruel man.

She walked on, mechanically, down the beach. The shells were still crumbling beneath her feet. Why was it satisfying to be destructive? She resisted the impulse to stop, squat down, examine the wreckage her bare feet had wrought, here on her beach, only a few hours from the Cape, in Connecticut. She had come to this little town blindly, after the divorce. It was near the boarding school where Anthony had sent Toni, and even though Marcella had known it would not make much difference, she could not bear to stay in Boston, so far away. Now Toni was in college but Marcella was still here, and she still could walk this beach and, most days, have no one recognize her. Even with all these people, she could be alone.

She had not asked Anthony when Toni's job was starting. Already, even without details, her brain was barreling ahead, painting its pictures--it could be that right now Toni was holding the baby. A tiny girl, Anthony had said. Marcella remembered how an infant would turn its head toward a breast, even a stranger's, mouth gaping like a fish, seeking even when there was nothing there to find. She wondered how Toni would deal with that, and felt a brief smile on her face like sun. Toni would just hand the baby over, as quickly as she could. Velocemente! To Callie McClatchey. To Cecil's daughter. She looked like him--blond and blue-eyed, with an open, oval face. The brother was dark, favored Betsy. Marcella remembered him, too, quite clearly. She couldn't think why. Did the baby perhaps take after him? Or in its tiny face, in the baby with whom she, Marcella, shared no blood, none at all, could one find Cecil again? Was Toni seeing him right now, not knowing what she was seeing? And the smile fell away.

She had left the public beach by now, and though there were still people it was quieter. She headed down to the water, and the coolness on her feet, the gentle splashing of her steps, calmed her in spite of herself. Perhaps she would swim later. An ordinary thought--and she felt a timid swirl of resentment, because she had been having more of these small pleasures lately, coming upon them like green atolls in the endless gray sea of days, and she wondered now if she had left them behind again. Only yesterday--yesterday--she had eaten some of the first sugar corn from the farm stand down the road, let the butter trickle down her chin. Then she had devoured a whole pint of local strawberries, and for the first time in a long while had felt the glee that comes from being alone, and doing what one pleases. She had felt carefree, or at least able to pretend--

Just then a small figure charged by, splashing her, and she exclaimed in surprise. It was a little boy, about three years old, his belly childishly round but his limbs just beginning to lengthen. Even as he flashed past she could see the sweet, faint outlines of muscle in his shoulders, his calves. But then he stopped short, and she turned to see an inflatable ball, colored like a globe, floating away past the wave line.

She had to clear her throat. She hadn't spoken since that morning, on the phone. "Is that your ball, sweetheart?" If he had been her own she would have said caro. Dear one. Something she had always thought she would say, to a little boy who was hers.

He didn't answer, just regarded her with a steady gaze that seemed older than the rest of him. "I'll get it for you," she said.

She waded out and retrieved it, turned back. Up on the beach, she saw a couple who must have been his parents--they smiled at her, waved, but did not come closer, and she could see that they were letting their son have a tiny slice of independence, letting him talk to the nice lady by himself. She thought of what they saw when they looked at her: a tallish slim woman (she heard her grandmother, her nonna, long ago: molta mingherlina--you are too thin,--Marcellina), dark hair twisted up on her head, not much gray, not yet. Alone--did they wonder why? The mother was holding a baby. She shifted it up higher on her hip as Marcella watched.

The boy had not moved. "Here is your ball, darling," she said, and held it out with both hands. Still he didn't move, and she walked slowly toward him, afraid he might dart away. She had not looked at a child this closely for so long! His eyes were solemn, dark brown. "Would you like to catch?" she said, and he gave a hint of a nod. She threw the ball, and in a sudden burst of movement he caught it, turned, and hurtled toward his parents. She waved to them and they waved back but the little boy did not look at her again, and the young family continued down the beach.

She stood bereft in the water, and thought again of Anthony. He had never liked wistfulness, regret, longing for anything that had not come, that never would. If he could see her expression now, he would stop, one step too far away. His lean, handsome face would harden almost imperceptibly. There might also be a hint of old pain in his eyes, a look that would make her want to reach out to him--but she wouldn't. Because she was the one lacking, the one who had failed.

Their conversation had ended badly. She had wanted only to get off the phone. To be alone, to howl. Anthony, though, had wanted to chat; usually he was all business. Finally she said, "Anthony, please." It had stopped him short. She did not say caro; why would she now? Still, today she felt that he noticed. She said, "I must go."

She knew he heard it, that he knew what she meant--must, right now, I cannot stay in control. "I'm sorry to have upset you," he said.

"It wasn't you," she managed to say. "I'm glad you told me."

"Otherwise it would have been a nasty shock," he said.

"Yes." Then she realized that he had said it as a test, that even now she was supposed to pretend otherwise. Even now, after seven years, Anthony could not have stood the mention of Cecil's name. "How hard this must be for you, too," she said, and then was disgusted with herself. Dio mio, she thought, still I say the wrong thing, always it is wrong--

An old, familiar silence. Then a thought came to her, hitting her like a fist. "You won't tell her," Marcella had said.

"Of course not," Anthony had said, as though he had been waiting. "I will not tell her a single damn thing."


In a cramped upstairs closet of a two-hundred-year-old house in Mashantum, Massachusetts--on the bay, the bicep of Cape Cod--Jed McClatchey was hunting for his old wooden tennis racquet. He wanted to give it to his nephew, Jamie, who was three and whose first word, still his favorite, had been ball. Jed hadn't bothered to ask Callie if she approved. Once upon a time, he was sure, the answer would have been no; Jamie, like as not, would see beyond the racquet's sporting purpose to its other, weaponlike possibilities. But now Callie was exhausted and probably wouldn't care, and Billy, his father--who would have been all for it--was back in New York trying to make partner. When Jed felt the need for a coherent reason to be here on the Cape, jobless, for an entire summer, he told himself that he was just here to do some of the things Billy would have. Teach Jamie, direct him, show him how to hit balls. The man things.

For now, though, he was not finding the racquet. Maybe it wasn't in this closet--or even in the house. It was exactly the sort of thing his mother would have carted away to the congregational church for their annual rummage sale. She had been unsentimental about mere things, an attitude he had admired. Her confidence had seemed to him absolute. Sweetie, you don't need that anymore, she would say, plucking from him the stained, beloved shirt or his first, too-small fielder's glove, and he would believe her, as he always did. As he had believed no one since.

But there was still plenty of junk left to paw through in the closet, which was full, in the way of summer houses, of odds and ends made sacred and immovable by the passage of time. He ducked his head back in, narrowly missing the low lintel of the door. There were enough faded shirts and high-water pants to outfit an army of home improvers. Outdated, water-swollen best sellers his parents had read at the beach. Dead tennis balls, useful if they had had a retriever, which they did not; wooden racquet press; still no racquet. Two lefty golf clubs he had once bought at the same rummage sale, wanting to make himself both a golfer and ambidextrous. A box fan, caked with dust, with a grille from the heedless bad old days that was wide enough for Jamie or, next summer, little Grace to stick a finger through. And if this was so, Jed wondered, why were there not more missing fingers in his generation, before people worried so much? Nevertheless he took the fan out of the closet, reminding himself to throw it away.

At the bottom of the closet, among the dust bunnies, was a half-crushed shirt box. It felt light, and he opened it expecting to find nothing or, at most, some old, ill-considered birthday gift. But instead, neatly folded, there was a woman's bathing suit.

He felt he was seeing it not only with his eyes but with his whole body. A one-piece, plunging neckline, dark blue with vertical white stripes. Almost clownish--but then he lifted it out of the box and held it up by the straps. Yes. He remembered. He popped out the firm cups of the bra, gingerly, with one finger, as if he were touching her actual breast. He remembered what he had seen, and a ghost of old desire swirled deep in his groin.

How old had he been?--that afternoon by the pool, their pool, when Marcella Atkinson had been stretched out in a lounge chair, alone at the corner of their patio? She had seemed separated from the rest of them, from the party that was going on, not only by the few feet that the chair was pulled away but also by her stillness and, Jed had sensed, her sadness. And her beauty. Her perfect legs and olive skin and dark upswept hair had not seemed to belong with the cheerful Yankees in their madras shorts and flowered dresses, grilling fat American burgers and drinking gin and tonics.

That had not been his mother's last summer. The memory was older than that, there'd been a chance for it to sink in, he had had a good long time to dream about Marcella Atkinson before everything, even the patterns of his idle thoughts, irrevocably changed. Before his mother had walked into their own house, back in Atlanta, and encountered a stranger, the last stranger she would ever meet.

"Jed?" He started. "Where are you?"


"Jamie is asking about some tennis racquet." Callie was in the doorway, the little bundle of Grace on her shoulder. Her blond hair was uncombed and she was wearing an old white oxford cloth shirt of their father's, a relic perhaps of this very closet, what she now called her milk-truck shirt. "What's that?"

"A bathing suit."

"Yes, I see." Callie came closer and squinted at it, as though she were nearsighted, which she was not. "That's not Mom's."

"I know. Weird."

"Some girlfriend of yours?" Jed made a face, his heart thumping, and wondered why he was not telling her about his teenage crush.

"What?" Callie said, misinterpreting. "It's a nice suit. Kind of sexy. Come on, whose is it?"

"I told you, I don't know. You want it?"

"God, no. God. I'm as big as a fucking house."

Even though Grace was only ten weeks old, and, accounting for her prematurity, barely a newborn, Jed instinctively cringed. "Cal."

She ignored him and said, "Maybe Toni will want it. Toni!" she called, and it was too late to stop her. He heard steps in the hall, and Jamie appeared, running. "I want the tennis ball racquet!" he declared.

"We'll find it," Toni Atkinson said, behind him. She pushed a strand of her dark-blond hair behind one ear and leaned artfully against the door frame, crossing one long tan leg over the other.

Jed refused to let her catch his eye and instead turned his back just in time, folding the suit small, small. "It's not here, bud," he said. "I'll keep looking. Maybe it's in the barn."

"Toni," Callie said, "we found this bathing suit--Jed, where is it?"

"It's not her kind of thing." He had gotten it back in the box and closed the lid, and now he stuck it in the closet as casually as he could, behind a pile of books. "Bunch of stuff here I should take up to the church," he continued, to no one in particular.

Toni cocked her head, raised an eyebrow. "Let me see it," she said. "Not my thing? What is my thing?"

She said this looking at Jed with perfect coy confidence, and it was true that only minutes before Jed would have taken this opening and run with it. Toni Atkinson was nineteen, an adult, he wouldn't be doing anything wrong--he had already gone over it in his mind. He could have said now, for instance, that she was more given to string bikinis, which was true; but all of a sudden he did not particularly care to answer her. "Jed?" she said.

And yet he didn't want to arouse suspicion. Toni would be the type to sneak in here later and go into the closet and find the suit, and then--what? He looked straight at her and grinned, feeling an unfamiliar shame as he did so. "You don't need some old-lady bathing suit," he said. "Trust me."

"And I do?" Callie said.

It was not as strong a protest as he would have expected, but he acted as though she were in her old form. "Sure," Jed said. "Embrace it, Cal. Old lady mommy. Hip no more."

For a moment Callie looked like she was trying to come up with one of her normal snappy retorts, but then she just gave him a halfhearted smirk and sat down in the armchair next to the bed, her hand limply on Grace's back. Toni said, "Do you want me to take her?" and wordlessly, Callie handed her over. Jed knew these were matters he didn't really understand, but still he didn't like Callie's look of relief. Grace was so tiny still, wizened and unsmiling and as light as a puppy; Jed had seen her in the hospital in Greenwich, when she had been in her little plastic box with cables strung all over, and he could not forget that sight. He felt that he or Callie should never put her down. He tried to ignore Callie stretching her now-empty arms to the ceiling, clearly relieved, turning her face to the light streaming through the old, small-paned window. Toni was already out the door. She liked to have Grace to herself, Jed had noticed.

But then she turned and said, in what was clearly an afterthought, "Hey, Jamie, big guy. Let's go look for that racquet. Maybe it's in the barn." She held out her free hand to him with a sweet smile, and then raised the same smile to Jed--Lady Madonna. He resisted rolling his eyes at her, instead smiled weakly back.

Jamie began to follow and then looked back at Jed and Callie, reluctant. "I'll be there in a minute, pardner," Jed said.

"Be careful," Callie said. She smiled too but it was automatic; her eyes were opaque. "Be careful with that racquet."

Jamie screeched, "Mommy, we don't know where it is!"

"I know, sweetheart," she said, not looking at him. "I'm sure you'll find it." She settled her head back into the faded chintz. It had been their mother's favorite chair. She said, "I'll just stay here awhile." She did not look at Jed.

He heard Toni's and Jamie's footsteps go down the hall, then down the creaky back stairs to the kitchen. The screen door squeaked open, slapped shut. Callie was looking out the window, her gaze flat against the trees. Jed eyed the closet door. It would be the most natural thing in the world to go get the bathing suit back out. To say, Do you know whose this is? To say, Why is it here?

But instead he whispered, "Have a good rest, Cal." She gave him the barest of nods.

He left the room then, but instead of following Toni and Jamie's path down the hall, he made an abrupt turn, into his own room, and shut the door. He sat down on the edge of his childhood bed and stared at his empty hands. They tingled.

The ghost of memory, of the desire, shimmered again and then it was no longer a ghost but alive and warm and vivid. He had been keeping it at bay--why?--but now he could see and feel it all. An ordinary day, an ordinary party, Marcella Atkinson perhaps slightly more than ordinary at the edge of it. And then not at the edge but at the center. His life had not been ordinary for a long time.

The party had been mostly people from the Nobscusset Tennis Club, which was the grandiloquent name they had for the little collection of clay courts in the woods half a mile away. There had been kids in the pool and a few dads, but mostly the adults were dry and dressed and drinking; Jed himself had been directed, by his mother, to help entertain, and so he had been in the pool, throwing kids around, letting them climb on him. He preferred doing that to having the parents of his friends ask him about college and what he was majoring in and all the rest of it, which was what would have happened if he had been making conversation over by the grill. He'd known he would have ended up telling them he was pre-law, but he wouldn't really have meant it, and he hated himself when he said something just to sound impressive. He had just finished his freshman year, and he hated, too, the idea that his life would take predictable turns.

Callie was there but she was mooning around waiting for their friends, specifically Ham Storer, to show up. He remembered that. And Toni was there--she must have been ten or eleven, and Jed had had the distinct impression that she was showing off for him, which he thought was funny because he himself had been showing off, just a little bit, for her mother. Maybe he'd stood in front of her to throw a ball, maybe, oh, he'd flexed a muscle once or twice. Marcella Atkinson had been sitting at the corner of the patio, alone. He tended to notice her when she was around, which was not often--she seemed to play tennis only under duress. If one of his friends had happened to ask him about her--and maybe they would have; surely he wasn't the only one noticing her--he probably would have said she was hot. Another thing to impress. But in his mind, he held her more gently. With more awe.

He was trying to ignore Toni and not be rude about it, and he ducked under water and swam to the deep end. When he came up, he found himself looking directly at Marcella. He was in a little space of quiet; he checked; the kids, including Toni, were now in a knot at the other end, playing Marco Polo. He propped himself up against the deck with his elbow, and when he looked back, furtively, at Marcella Atkinson, she had sat up in her lounge chair, and was taking off her dress.

It was only a beach dress, of course. Her bathing suit was underneath. He wondered for the briefest of moments if she was going to swim, and then, for a moment that was even briefer, the dress caught around her hair and she twisted to free herself, and her bathing suit pulled back, and he saw her nipple, dark as an unblinking eye.

He had been almost nineteen. He had seen nipples before, whole breasts in fact. He was not a virgin, and he fancied himself an adult, but as the dark privacy of Marcella Atkinson's body flashed by him--almost instantly she twisted again, and the suit slipped back, and her breast was covered--he had realized he wasn't. He realized that normally he would have felt a throb of transgressive glee, a thrill of good luck, and that that would have been wrong. Because instead he wanted to run and protect her. To hide her, even though now there was nothing to hide. He gripped the edge of the concrete deck and resisted.

Instead, as he watched, she pulled the dress the rest of the way off. She sat back in the chair, unaware of what had happened, and looked down at the bundle of the dress in her lap, pensive, as if she did not know what to do with it. And then she looked straight up at him.

She had light-green northern Italian eyes. They were startling against her skin, her dark hair. They were wide open and innocent with a guileless, heartbreaking longing, and he knew that somehow it had everything and yet nothing to do with him.

His old self--the self he had been until a minute before, the self he was jettisoning at that very moment--would have been disappointed to realize she wasn't looking at him. But this abrupt new self (he saw with the clarity of memory) knew he had seen something mysterious and fascinating: Marcella Atkinson's body, and Marcella herself. He thought of the girls he knew who seemed to offer him sunny manicured lanes instead of turning, twisting mysteries, and he knew his own life would not be ordinary, that it would instead be boundlessly rich. He was eighteen and fortunate and things had always gone well for him, and while he knew that his good fortune so far had not involved much choice on his part, he thought that being an adult, in the land of choice, would only improve things. He stared at her for another long moment. He was all nerve endings. And then he knew suddenly that he had to get away.

He turned his back to her and heaved himself out of the water, took a towel from a nearby chair, covered himself. When he turned to her again, Marcella Atkinson was looking beyond him, into the trees, like she wanted to escape, and he knew she was no longer thinking of him at all. Somehow it didn't matter. But escape seemed exactly the thing and so he left without saying good-bye to anyone and went to the club. It was empty; everyone was at the party. He slammed balls against the backboard for an hour, sweating out his lust and wonder, effecting the change in himself. When he had gotten back home, the party was breaking up, and the Atkinsons were gone.

He sat now, rigid, on the edge of his bed. He knew Callie was still in the other room and that she was not really resting and that something was wrong. Through the open window he heard Toni's voice, indistinct but with an impatient edge, and he knew Jamie would come looking for Callie soon, and he would have to intercept him. And he knew that since that moment years ago, when life had seemed to lie exquisite before him, he had lost faith in any ability of his for agency or happiness.

And he knew also that Marcella Atkinson's bathing suit should not be there, in the upstairs closet of his parents' house. He knew that later, when the room was empty again, he would go back for it. He would hold it in his hands, and figure out what to do.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Interviews & Essays

I'm a Southerner born and bred, and I grew up going to the beach for a couple of weeks every year in South Carolina, where the water is as warm as your bath, the pace is slow, and the fake-bamboo furniture is comfortable. Then, after a move to Boston that still baffles even me, I met my husband, who summered. (In all fairness, his family would be loath to use that word; nevertheless, when you decamp to the coast for the entire summer, every summer, that's summering.) Moreover, they summered on Cape Cod, in a very old house built to withstand howling winter winds (small windows, fireplaces, and low ceilings), and where the decor was not, um, tropical. The water was often freezing. The air was often freezing. In August.

As I've begun talking to people about my debut novel, The Swimming Pool, I've noticed that one of the most popular questions people ask is "Where did you get the idea for your book?" and that, often, what they are really asking is, "Is it autobiographical?" It's hard to believe that writers make up stories out of thin air, and for good reason: they don't. Somewhere, in every book, there are elements hidden of the writer, of the writer's family, the writer's history and experience. The best description I have heard is "refracted autobiography"-emphasis on refracted. For instance, The Swimming Pool is the story of a young man, Jed McClatchey, who is mired in grief for his parents, who died seven years previously-his mother in a still-unsolved break-in/murder. Jed falls in love and begins an affair with an older woman, Marcella Atkinson, who he then learns was his late father's mistress; as one might imagine, complications and revelations ensue.

Now. I am happily married. My parents are both alive. I don't know anyone who was murdered. I am not Italian (Marcella is). I don't know any cougars personally. It is all made up.

Except for the fact that this book is set on Cape Cod, and Marcella, an expatriate from a warm and sunny clime, is mystified by it. And except that Jed, who just happens to be a Southerner, has grown up summering there. Which is not usual for a boy from Atlanta. One might say that I have split myself between my two protagonists: I have the woman who feels like a constant outsider; I have the man who loves being somewhere different, who knows how different it is from his birthplace and yet who gets it. Because I think I finally get the Cape, after twenty-something years. Or maybe I just get it enough to fake it. I can still stand a bit outside. I can see it clearly, in a way that it is sometimes hard for me to see the places where I grew up.

It is the quintessential stance of the writer: you've got to blend in. You've got to pass. You've got to get people to forget that you're watching, hard. And, really, they shouldn't be nervous; the things writers notice, or that I notice, anyway, are not the things one might expect. In this case, there was a story I heard long ago about a family I barely knew, where the middle-aged husband left his high-school-sweetheart wife-a sad, but garden-variety, occurrence. For some reason, it stuck in my head. And then it combined with the feel of the sun beating down on a clay tennis court in the woods (a court I decidedly watched from the outside; I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a tennis ball), with the cast-in-amber interior of a beloved old Yankee house, and with the sort of crime one might read about in the newspaper and then promptly forget. My own experience with postpartum depression was given to a secondary character, and intensified. My one trip ever to the Connecticut coast yielded a place for Marcella's escape. And on and on.

Where did I get the idea for the book? I have no idea. Is it autobiographical? Of course not. Of course.

As it happens, I still get to go to South Carolina occasionally, often in August, when I can sweat to my heart's content. As it also happens, I wrote much of the book on the Cape. I belong to both places, and to neither. As a writer, it's better that way. -Holly LeCraw

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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Holly LeCraw's powerful debut novel, The Swimming Pool.

1. What are all the different forces that draw Jed and Marcella together? What taboos, exactly, are they breaking? What fruits does this relationship bear—and are they worth the transgression?

2. What do you think Jed and Callie might have been like if their parents hadn’t died? What do you think it did to them losing their parents just as they were about to become adults themselves—how would that be different from other timing?

3. Marcella begins the book as a very broken and fragile woman. How long has she been like this? What has contributed to it, besides her divorce and Cecil’s death, and to what degree? What is her progression throughout the book—does she end up in a different psychological and emotional place? What are the signs that she might have changed?

4. The cocktail party at the McClatcheys’ pool becomes a centerpiece: at different points we see it from Jed’s, Callie’s, Anthony’s, Cecil’s, and Marcella’s POVs. How did such a mundane event become so central? What did that day mean for all these different characters? Discuss why all of them were so vulnerable at those particular times. What might Toni’s and Betsy’s perspectives—the only missing ones—have been like?

5. Why do you think LeCraw uses different points of view? Why might she choose a particular POV for a scene? How would the book be different if it were only from, say, Jed’s point of view, or some other character’s?

6. Do you think Marcella and Anthony will get back together? Does Marcella still love him? How and why?

7. What sort of man should Marcella have married? How might her life have been different--or would it have been? What sort of woman should Anthony have married? Or did they marry the right people after all?

8. LeCraw often documents action not as it is happening, but as a character is remembering it. How does the memory add an extra layer of meaning to the action? Why do you think particular flashbacks are interwoven at the points they are?

9. Discuss Callie and Betsy’s relationship—does it seem smooth? How does the nature of their relationship affect Callie’s grief process after Betsy’s death?

10. What is your prognosis for Callie and Billy’s marriage? Do you think Callie will change as a result of her postpartum depression?

11. (spoiler) How culpable is Anthony in Betsy’s death? In the end, how does it affect the reader’s experience of the novel and understanding of the characters to know or not know for sure?

12. (spoiler) How do you feel about Anthony and Marcella’s decision not to tell Jed what they know? At the close of the book, do you think they will keep their secret? Why or why not? What might happen either way?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit:

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 43 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 43 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Beautiful prose

    Cape Cod is the setting for Holly LeCraw's debut novel, The Swimming Pool.

    In the first chapter we are introduced to Anthony Atkinson. He has called his ex-wife Marcella to let her know that their daughter, Toni, has taken a summer job babysitting for Callie McClatchey. Callie's brother Jed will be at the cottage as well. When Jed finds a bathing suit at the cottage that he remembers Marcella wearing at one of his parent's parties, he inexplicably seeks her out. The past and the present collide as Jed and Marcella begin an affair. Marcella's affair with Jed's father Cecil was the reason for her divorce. Cecil's wife Betsy was murdered on the night that he ended the affair. The past is slowly and tantalizingly revealed to us through the memories of Marcella, Callie and Jed. The present is inevitably affected by secrets, recriminations and confessions revealed.

    Although the mystery of Betsy's unsolved murder is the strongest plot line, it is the interactions of the characters, their feelings, needs and fears that are the real story. LeCraw has an incredibly deft hand with description. The affairs of Marcella are described in sensual terms and never denigrate into tawdriness. However, I just never really warmed up to Marcella. I found her to be a weak woman, and somewhat pitiable, despite her magnetic attraction for men. She seemed to adapt herself to what the men in her life needed. Her acceptance of an criminal act perpetrated by her husband really galled me.

    LeCraw has done a superb job in drawing her characters and provoking a reaction from this reader. I honestly didn't like most of them. Callie's storyline was the one that had me holding my breath. A new mother for the second time, she is suffering from undiagnosed severe post partum depression. Her thoughts on harming her newborn are truly frightening.

    The Swimming Pool is definitely not plot driven, despite the description given at the beginning of this review, and the mystery surrounding Betsy's death is easily answered midway. What stands out are the prose - they really are beautiful. I found myself rereading many passages just to savour the words. A strong debut from a talented new author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Hard to Put Down

    This book was excitement, romance, captivating and dramatic all rolled into one. Could not put it down...wanted to know what was going to happen chapter after chapter...Kudos to Holly LeCraw...bought this book on a whim...saw it advertised on FB......A must read!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2012


    I didn't mess up though! Grr...okay, if you're my friend, go to onestay fourth result. I'm expecting to see at least Mikoto and Alex. Whoa, that's weird...all my friends here are girls...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2012


    Soooooo were is the freaking area thats fun for me

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2012



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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2012


    Roman: I'm good with not dying. :P *kisses Taylor's cheek* I like watching you though :) Jessica: *squeals and puts her arms around Dustin's neck* Alea: Does not like water. Sean: She is not gonna get off your back, Noah. XD! She did that to Mason last summer. Alea: *glares* Mason: IT WAS ANNOYING!!!! *swims far away from Alea with Katie* Connor: *presses his lips to Rylie's, wrapping his arms firmly around her waist* Mason: *buries his face into Katie's shoulder and hugs her tightly* I love you. Saturn: Awww! Wolf: *jumps in and splashes everyone*

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2011

    A good read!

    I enjoyed reading this book. Easy reading - makes you want to get to the end result so it holds your attention to the end.

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  • Posted June 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Good until the last couple chapters then it got stilted.

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Posted August 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    fascinating look into human relationships

    Time flew while reading this book. LeCraw's writing is elegant and smooth, and she sets up the story well with enough background to get the reader into the story. At the same time, LeCraw manages to keep key points in the storyline hidden until she's ready to reveal them. The juxtaposition between different time periods (past and present) was a bit hard to follow at certain points but once the characters were established, it was much easier.

    The intertwined lives of the Atkinson's and the McClatchey's are both sad and eventually tragic but altogether human--which keeps you engaged until the very end. The love affair between Marcella and Cecil is described with a realism that speaks to the "why" of affairs, outside of the passion that often overshadows everything else. However, that between Marcella and Jed seems a bit harder to figure out. But perhaps that's the beauty of it, because there are often relationships that have no "why" but just "are". All the other characters revolve around these but in a way that cannot be denied--even as each of them tries to deny some truth in life in order to continue to live. How they grow and evolve is both gratifying and depressing, as they manage to us reflect how we all change and stay the same in different ways.

    This is not a happy novel in many respects, so you may need to be in the right mood to really enjoy it. However, highly recommend putting this book on your to read list.

    NOTE: In response to some comments on pricing, I found this ebook at my local library as well. Also highly recommend taking advantage of the Nook's ability to do this--along with reading in-store for free.

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  • Posted June 1, 2010


    THE SWIMMING POOL by Holly Lecraw is a murder mystery set in Cape Cod during the summer. It is the debut novel for this author. It is well written. It has mystery, murder, secrets, betrayal, foregiveness,love, sensual content, and illecit entanglements. The characters are interesting. If you enjoy family secrets and mystery you will enjoy this one. This book was received for review and details can be found at My Book Addiction and More and Doubleday.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2010


    Am I the only one who thinks the price for the ebook version of this book is outrageous? The ebook price is MORE than the hardcover. If this is an example of the agency pricing model then it is quite clear the publishers have no idea what they are doing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    excellent book overall

    the ending of the story leads to some disappointment

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  • Posted April 26, 2010

    Nature, nature, & the blues...

    Nature and nurture are the twin forces that quietly grace this novel. Only a gardener of words could dig as deftly into the complexities of maternal love with the same gentle observation and level of attention to detail as this author does with blue salvia (great word!) that shoots out into knee-high indigo spikes later on. Lots of blue here, metaphorical and physical, in waves that carry one out toward the very poignant scene of the tormented Callie and her infant girl-child near the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2010

    A Great Read!

    I just finished The Swimming Pool and could not put it down. LeCraw's writing style is beautiful and her ability to convey a story filled with mystery, lust and the emotional complexity of the human character is incredible. LeCraw masterfully describes locations such as the beach, the swimming pool, Marcella's cottage where the complex tale of human relationships is developed. The story contains an exquisite balance of intrigue, suspense and sexual tension that keeps the reader riveted to the end. This book will not disappoint!

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  • Posted April 22, 2010

    Outstanding for a Debut Novel

    After finishing the book, it was hard to believe that this was LeCraw's freshman work. The story centers on Marcella, a divorced woman who finds herself in a relationship with Jed, the grown son of the man with whom she had an affair seven years before. LeCraw builds the characters so well, that even secondary ones like Marcella's daughter Toni and Jed's sister Callie have developed storylines that really let the reader feel they are a part of this inner circle.
    The book gives you an almost-voyeuristic view into the emotions that drive all the characters' actions. The decisions they make would under other writers' hands turn into a story best left to afternoon talk shows and tabloids. LeCraw magnificently delves into the psyche of each character and their choices, and thereby makes the reader empathize with each.
    The relationships, of Jed and his sister, Marcella and her ex-husband, are explored on more than just a surface level. The story is told in vignettes bouncing from past to present, and while I usually find that annoying, the gorgeous prose that LeCraw uses made the transitions almost seamless.
    This is a story of love, hurt, betrayal, forgiveness, and secrets. The characters are on the precipice of falling into a dangerous unknown, and I found myself cheering them on to find ways off their ledges. Even when they indulged in selfish deeds, I still loved them all.
    The novel does have a bit of sexual content, but this did not distract from what a great book it is. I would have loved to have the ending a bit more developed, but overall this would definitely be a book I recommend for a summer read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2010

    A story with the scent of truth

    This book is a lyrical excavation of the relationships that define all our lives - the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children. The characters are far from perfect, and in that sense, they're astonishingly authentic. They are, well, like all of us: they have complex inner lives that are sometimes at odds with the face they present to the world. This is a beautifully drawn tale about human nature, written in gorgeous prose. What a pleasure to read.

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  • Posted April 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    The Swimming Pool is quite frankly a very heavy read. not in a long-winded or cumbersome way, but for sheer lack of action and a morbidly depressing theme. Every single character in this book is troubled and depressed. Every one of them is miserable in their own way and for their own (albeit intertwined) reasons. I have to give Lecraw props for theme development. I was depressed for at least an extra hour every time I walked away from this book. Whether you like it or not, you must admit that an author who weaves her theme that convincingly did a stunningly good job with it. The setting was fairly well-crafted too. I could almost smell the sea air at the Cape and I wouldn't mind spending a day in Marcella's glorious flower garden. The characters in this book were engaging for the first half. Then they became tedious: mope, whine, despair. Despair, whine, mope. Marcella started out as the most interesting character for me, but her sheer inertia throughout the story left me feeling ambivalent even toward her.

    Plot development is where this book falls painfully short. I was roughly at the midway point when I realized that I had very little to gain from finishing this book. I was fairly certain I knew everything that was coming: who was probably responsible for Betsey McClatchey's death, where Marcella and Jed's relationship would probably end up, what Callie was probably going to end up doing. I stuck with it largely to see if I was right. And I was. While the mystery of Betsey McClatchey's death practically becomes a secondary plot to Jed and Marcella's affair, it's likely the only part of this story that will keep the reader engaged enough to read this novel all the way through.

    I must say that the author did a good job with a narrative that skipped constantly between present and past. Two parallel stories were simultaneously revealed in a surprisingly seamless way. If only there had been more going on in one or both of those story lines..

    The Bottom Line: A notable first effort but an exceedingly bleak read.
    At the very least, The Swimming Pool reveals an author with some genuine talent.

    This review originally appeared on my blog, The Lit Witch: A Book Blog.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Dive In!

    Extraordinary!! The Swimming Pool, by Holly LeCraw, is a spellbinding novel that is nearly impossible to put down. Love, loss, affairs, murder, and dirty little secrets will keep you turning the pages 'till the very end----and leave you still wanting more!
    Dive In!! This swim will be well worth your time!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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