The New York Times Book Review
Swimming with Jonahby Audrey Schulman
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.
The New York Times Book Review
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.33(w) x 8.07(h) x 0.78(d)
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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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