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Swimming Sweet Arrow: A Novel

Swimming Sweet Arrow: A Novel

4.6 9
by Maureen Gibbon

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Evangeline Starr Raybuck -- plain-spoken, lusty, and hardworking -- and June Keel are high school seniors, best friends going out with best friends, working together at Noecker's chicken farm after school. Vangie and June make out with their boyfriends together in the same car; they pass dirty notes to each other during the day at school. They tell each other


Evangeline Starr Raybuck -- plain-spoken, lusty, and hardworking -- and June Keel are high school seniors, best friends going out with best friends, working together at Noecker's chicken farm after school. Vangie and June make out with their boyfriends together in the same car; they pass dirty notes to each other during the day at school. They tell each other everything: "That was the kind of friends we were".

After they graduate, things begin to shift. Vangie gets a job waitressing and moves in with Del; June, unable to get a job anywhere but the local factory, moves in with Ray and his older brother Luke. As they become more involved in their lives with their men, they see each other infrequently, but not so seldom that it doesn't become clear to Vangie that there's something dangerous going on, that June has crossed a line with the men in her life that even Vangie would not.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Not since Fear of Flying has a book so explicitly celebrated female sexuality. This "intriguing," "voyeuristic" first novel is the story of one young woman's gradual coming of age in rural Pennsylvania. Some booksellers said, "exceptional," others claimed, it "belongs in the soft-porn section."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Evangeline Starr Raybuck is the young heroine who wades through the quagmire of a brutal, intense sexual coming of age in Gibbon's first novel, a catalogue of vice and neglect in rural Pennsylvania told in straightforward, sometimes graphic prose. Now that high school is over for "Vangie" and her friends, they turn from carelessness to recklessness, taking their drinking, drugs and sex to new extremes. Vangie is in love with Del Pardee, and her best friend, June Keel, is paired off with Ray Sparrow, but the foursome isn't as stable as they believe, and their relationships quickly grow complicated, jealous and violent. June lives with Ray and his brother Luke. Despite Ray's devotion, June falls for Luke, and then is too scared, na ve and attached to hurt her boyfriend with the truth. Though Vangie sees devastation ahead for June, she only narrowly escapes disaster herself when she risks her relationship with Del to satisfy her curiosity with his brother Frank, and with June's brother Kevin, both cruel and violent sex partners. After Del's drug overdose lands him in detox, and June, in a moment of heavy-handed foreshadowing, reveals a loaded gun above Luke's bed, Vangie begins to take stock of her decisions. Until this point, Gibbon focuses on the reflexive way Vangie uses sex: to get love, pleasure, revenge, adventure, pain or money; most of this sex uses up Vangie instead. Gibbon's frank and repetitious renderings of these acts dominate the novel, sacrificing character development so that when the inevitable debacle occurs, Vangie's bid for a better life seems faraway and incomprehensible. The young woman ostensibly emerges with new direction and insight, but the inconsistency of her strength and the passive hopelessness of her existence thus far leave the reader unconvinced. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
The accomplishment of the novel is in its voice -- an affecting blend of innocence and experience, an attempt to give words to what seems inarticulate about love . . . Both satisfying and unexpected.
The New York Times Book Review
A young, working class woman comes of age in this moving first novel— she could be the blunt-spoken daughter of a Carver character....it's anthropology with a heart.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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437 KB

Read an Excerpt

" I saw more of June's brother than I did of June those days. Kevin wasn't exactly a regular, but when he did come in to the restaurant, he always sat at my tables, he always asked me how I was, and he always gave me a compliment. It was the same kind of flirting everyone did with me, but over time I got to be more and more aware of Kevin. I was aware of him not only as a result of the stories about him, but also for the way he seemed to live within the stories that were told.

One night, right after I got bitched at by Earl - because instead of just slapping salad into a bowl, I'd actually taken five extra seconds to arrange the tomato like a flower, which Earl thought was a waste of time - Kevin seemed to know things were rough.

"He should be glad you work here," he told me. "You're the best thing about this place."

It was nice to hear the words after just getting screamed at, and I wanted to be nice to him back. So I said, "The best thing, huh? Well, where have you been all my life?"

"In prison."

At first it felt like a bomb had dropped, but then I realized that was why Kevin said it. It wasn't like people didn't already have it on their minds as soon as they saw him, so it was his to joke about if he wanted.

I said, "Was the food any better there?"

He didn't say anything to that, but he smiled, and I knew I had been right to say it.

That comment sort of broke the ice, and I came to see him as a kind of friend. If I had the time, I would sometimes grab a cup of coffee and sit with Kevin at his table. The only other person I felt safe doing that with was Bill Mahlon, because he was older than my dad. But I felt safe doing it with Kevin, too, in spite of everything, because he was June's brother and because I felt that I knew the worst there was to know about him. In a way, that made me like him, because there was no secret about him. I still was scared of him, but I knew that people could be more than one thing at a time. I didn't think what he let happen to June when she was ten was right, but he was also the person who had been tender with her when she was eight, driving her around until she got dizzy watching the sky. He committed a crime, but he'd served time for it. He was what he was.

Kevin and I never talked about anything important anyway. Work and the weather. But kind people who peppered my day were a type of friend, and their compliments, or their teasing, or just the sight of their faces, meant something to me. No matter how busy we got, even if I overlooked him for a bit, Bill Mahlon was always patient and called me the Peekaboo Girl and made sure I got my dollar tip. The game warden who teased me about the time he caught me and June skipping school and swimming out at Sweet Arrow Lake always made sure I got a dollar tip from each of the guys at his table. Kevin Keel always said I was pretty in whatever color I had on that day and made sure I got my tip. I didn't give a shit if the reason they gave me money was because they could see the flowers on my underwear or not. Because as tough as I pretended to be, I still craved kindness, and I took it where I could find it. Copyright (c) 2000 by Maureen Gibbon"

What People are Saying About This

James Salter
There. Now it is all written down. The broken, working-class families, the sex, drugs, dead-end lives and through it all the thing one really longs for: true decency. Luminous, simple, tough and written with stunning candor.
Paulette Bates Alden
Maureen Gibbon has written an amazing novel of hard lives and hard sex. Her Vangie Raybuck is a riveting original who goes all the way and then some -- and who is able to look the truth in the eye without blinking. Swimming Sweet Arrow is unflinching in its honesty and integrity. A wonderful debut!
Elizabeth Tallent
Swimming Sweet Arrow is an almost crazily courageous knock-out of a first novel, beautiful in its risky honesty.
Susanna Moore
I read it in one impassioned sitting. Maureen Gibbon has done something brave and intelligent-and erotic.
—(Susanna Moore, author of In the Cut)

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Swimming Sweet Arrow: A Novel 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very honest, insightful look at female sexuality. A very erotic novel, but also so much more, with terrific characters and a fast pace. Sexy and light, trully unforgettable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Two best friends, Vangie Raybuck and June Keel did everything together like double-dating with their boyfriends, etc. After they graduate high school, their friendship changes. The character I didn't like was main character Vangie. She seemed like a confused person. This book gets five stars, because, author Maureen Gibbon seems to know what goes on inside a young girl's head.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read this book over and over again. Not because of the sex and drugs, but because it is a coming of age story and some of Vangie's thoughts and actions remind me of what I would do in those situations. I think it is a great story about friendship and love, with an erotic twist. My favorite thing about the book is it takes place at sweet arrow lake. My grandparents own a cottage across from it
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was awesome. from the first three lines of the book, you're hooked. it's honest and it tells the truth of how life is and the things you have to put up with and do as a female in this world. i definitely recommend it. all my guy friends refer to it as the 'sex book' but it's a lot deeper than just sex. its a book every girl should read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was amazing. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. It's one of the few honest books I've ever read about what it's like to grow up female, and it's one of the few honest books about sex. I could relate to Vangie and her friend June -- to their dilemmas, their feelings and their experiences. The book is shocking in places, but that's because there's so much truth in it. It makes me think of those photos by Walker Evans in LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN. Gibbon doesn't turn away from the un-beautiful, and the result is a book that is strong and haunting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Raw and uncompromising, Swimming Sweet Arrow shows us Vangie's effort to transcend the brutality in her life. Gibbon's book explores her suffering, her sass and bravado, the grace in her grim survival. But Swimming Sweet Arrow tells also us just as much about ourselves--what moves us, how we waste and lose our lives, and where we finally find benediction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this novel straight through. The pacing is so strong that it pulls you in. I couldn't stop reading--mainly because the narrator, Vangie, speaks so directly. At times the frank voice felt searing and unmodulated, something like reading a journal. In some other hands, the recklessness of Vangie, her working-class, small town situation, more typically would receive irony, veiled condescension. Swimming Sweet Arrow demands you to approach Vangie's life on her terms. In a way, like Zola, but with optimism. This book gives you a different take on sex, choices, life. It is unlike anything I've read