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Swimming with Jonah

Swimming with Jonah

by Audrey Schulman

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Described as "brilliant" and "mesmerizing," Audrey Schulman’s debut novel, The Cage, revealed a talent as dazzling as the arctic landscape she so compellingly evoked. In her long-awaited follow-up, Schulman turns her darkly sensual eye on another exotic locale -a tropical Indonesian island-in a powerful and disturbing novel of a young woman’s awakening.


Described as "brilliant" and "mesmerizing," Audrey Schulman’s debut novel, The Cage, revealed a talent as dazzling as the arctic landscape she so compellingly evoked. In her long-awaited follow-up, Schulman turns her darkly sensual eye on another exotic locale -a tropical Indonesian island-in a powerful and disturbing novel of a young woman’s awakening.

Editorial Reviews

Laura Green
...[T]his is no fairy tale....Schulman expertly conveys a whole palette of terrors....[She] has written a creepy page-turner you want to finish in the hope that everything will somehow be O.K.
The New York Times Book Review
Baltimore Sun
Powerful...harrowing...flawlessly structured and thematically complex...An exhilarating and moving story...fraught with unexpected tensions and physicaldanger. —The Boston Book ReviewExtraordinary...well-wrought...an intriguing work of fiction...startling in its surreal intensity and exquisitely written.
New York Times Book Review
A creepy page-turner...Schulman expertly conveys a whole palette of terrors.
Boston Globe
Feverishly imagined
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A forlorn but richly compelling character is the protagonist of this beautifully controlled second novel. Jane Guy is the anxious, diffident, overweight daughter of a prominent physician and a famously beautiful ballerina who live in the wealthy community of Greenwich, Conn. Her parents' cold, silent disapproval of her mediocre academic achievements deepens as she is rejected from every medical school she applied to. Her shame and depression persist even as they celebrate her "acceptance" at a medical school on a remote Indonesian island that takes in any student whose parents can afford the outrageous tuition. When Jane leaves conventional suburbia, she enters another world both physically and mentally; the professors at the rigorous and autocratic school behave like drill sergeants, berating the students mercilessly and expelling them at any hint of mischief or incompetence. In the charged and lonely realms of the anatomy lab, the classroom, and the school's one student bar, Jane tries to survive among an uneasy new circle of friends: sultry, smart-mouthed Marlene; calm and competent Michael; Trent, as irresistible as he is blithely cruel; and stuttering, sensitive Keefer, who keeps a shark named Jonah in an ocean pen. Schulman's assured pacing and the subtle portrayal of Jane's alienation, innocence and growing awareness of her needs bring hypnotic tension to the story. The pressured environment and the heat of the island combine in exotic ways to change Jane's consciousness. As she discovers her powerful sexuality, an unusual kinship with her classmates and her new capacity for self-determination, the narrative moves to a stunning conclusion. Schulman's spare prose drives this suspenseful and moving novel with the enigmatic precision of poetry, fulfilling the promise she demonstrated in her debut, The Cage.
Kirkus Reviews
A tropical version of The Paper Chase, describing a young woman's first year at an Indonesian medical school, by the author of The Cage. Jane Guy's father is a man of substance. A Vietnam vet who learned first-hand what happens to the human body under extreme stress, he completed medical school after returning to the States and specialized in anesthesiology, eventually patenting several devices whose royalties made him rich. "Jane had always assumed she was going into medicine, that she would try to be like her Dad"- but there are problems. To begin with, her grades aren't up to standard. Plus, she was caught cheating at college and expelled. As a result, none of the medical schools she applies to will accept her-except for Queen's Medical School, halfway across the globe on an Indonesian island. Queen's is one of those offshore places that specializes in picking up US med-school rejects and getting them into the AMA by the side door. Jane is no Vietnam War hero, but she's brave (and driven) enough to put up with almost anything for her degree, so it's off to Indonesia. Her arrival isn't exactly propitious-she trips on the tarmac and dislocates her shoulder-and the school isn't quite what she expected, either: Teachers have nicknames like "Burn-out," half the buildings are Quonset huts, and the student lounge is a bar on the beach. Meanwhile, Jane's roommate Marlene was also expelled from college (for stealing the Dean's car), and one of her classmates keeps a pet shark. But, in the best Foreign Legion style, all pull together and look out for one another-until tragedy strikes when Jane's best friend turns despondent over his inability to make the grade. By story'send, though, Jane has learned far more about herself than about anatomy, making the year more than worth her efforts. Formulaic, but written brightly, and charmingly sincere.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.33(w) x 8.07(h) x 0.78(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The day Jane got into Queen's Medical School her parents took her out for dinner as congratulations.

Of course the application procedure for Queen's hadn't actually encompassed a rigorous screening of her transcript and college activities, her MCAT's and two recommendations. She hadn't had to write an essay that explained her vision of medicine's future, as well as her weak grades in Organic Chemistry. No, to get in, her father just had to write out the check, place it in the dean's hand. Eightythree thousand dollars for year one, not refundable even if she left on the first day of school. Her father signed it in front of the three of them, Jane, her mother, the dean. He used his Mont Blanc pen, his heavy even hand, the rasp across the paper at the final stroke. Looked right up at Jane then and smiled.

That night her parents congratulated her repeatedly, gave her a gold watch, an off-white linen safari suit they imagined appropriate for the tropics, and a guidebook to Indonesia. Her father took them out to Hattie's, the mostexpensive restaurant in Greenwich. Her mother brought along the school syllabus and brochures to have something to talk about over dinner. Still, even after her mother discussed with Jane each class and what it might entail, what vaccinations Jane would need, what clothes she should pack, even after dictating a list of all Jane had to, do in the three months before she left, their conversation petered out by the main course. After that all three of them were pretty much silent, the clinking of forks, the gnawing rasp of knives through meat, the chewing.

After that only her mother spoke occasionally inorder to critique the efficiency of the waiters, the restaurant's decorations, the crispness of the salad. She worried about the traffic to the airport on the day Jane was to leave three months from now. She asked them if they knew that human feet sweated an average of three quarters of a cup a day, she'd heard it on the radio. She said they would have to be sure to leave early enough in the morning, on that day, three months from now. Between each sentence, minutes passed. She didn't look over at her husband during any of this. He didn't say a word back. She sat up very straight. One thing was obvious, he was mad at her. Jane figured it was about the dean, that her father thought her mother had been flirting with the dean. After some of the parties they attended he would be angry for days, freezing her out. He once said to her, in Jane's presence, that his anger meant he loved her. For the longest time Jane had thought of that as a kind offering, an apology, to alI of them.

Jane slouched embarrassed between her parents, her smile wide and hopeful. She watched her manners, knew either one of them could switch their anger onto her with a single blink. She didn't risk starting any conversation on her own, but, nodded mechanically, to support each of the short comments her mother made. She methodically swallowed every bite on her plate to show her gratitude for the gift of the restaurant, the gift of their support. She smoothedher napkin flat across her lap and sucked on her teeth after each bite. Small things could enrage them too. She fully realized her own shame.

She hadn't made it into any medical school in the U.S., not even wait-listed. Not that she'd applied to every one of them, not all 123.

She'd had hopes at least for the state school, hoping her father's name would carry some weight. He'd lectured there on occasion. He'd donated money. There was a bronze statue in the front courtyard in his name. The statue was to Ether, the first type of anesthesia, showed a patient lying back, the doctor leaning over him pressing the mask in place, reminiscent perhaps of the position of a mugger. The statue was all bronze too, not covered nickel. Still, the rejection from the state school just took a week longer than the others to come.

Each day for those weeks between when the first reject arrived and the last, she tried to get to the mailbox before her parents. She hadn't always succeeded in their unhurried efficient way they'd beat her at least twice that she knew of the time she was in the bathroom and the time her bio lab ran over. Both times the medical school envelopes were just laid out on the front table where the mail was always placed. Neither of her parents said anything to her. There was no need. The contents of the envelopes were obvious from their light weight, from her grades and from what she'd done last fall. Her parents did not once allude to next fall and what she might or might not be doing then. That was the way they were with bad things. Silence was the weapon.

Other families, they yelled and gestured, they slammed doors and called each other fools. In Jane's family, the unwilling creak of a chair, the lonely clatter of ice in a glass echoed louder than any argument. Jane had never tried to describe this silence to anyone. She thought there was noreason to try; if you hadn't grown up in a family like this you wouldn't understand how damaging silence could be. In loud arguments someone yells at you and you know exactly what was said and how it was meant, how your actions should change. But when Jane's father sat beside her all evening with his neck so stiff he couldn't look at her, only her imagination could tell her the extent of his thoughts.

At Hattie's, Jane's mother made one last effort toward conversation. "I've been playing around," she mentioned, taking another sip of her water as though relaxed, as though not angry, "with, the idea of organizing a program to bring dance classes to the elderly. Increase flexibility, get them exercising."

Her husband just sat there for a moment, then nodded once, firmly. In approval? To stop her from saying anything more?

And Jane, so hesitant, glancing from her father to her mother, started to mouth some bland affirmative. Her father sent her a slow turn of his eyes. She shut up, midword, pulled her head in...

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