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.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||7.78(w) x 5.24(h) x 0.68(d)|
About 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.
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.
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: www.readinggroupcenter.com.)
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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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.
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!!
The Swimming Pool is a story of loss and longing and searching for answers -- answers which may not bring the closure the characters seem to seek.Marcella Atkinson and Cecil McClatchey have an affair that lasts several months. The night Cecil ends the affair, his wife is murdered and Cecil is a suspect. He dies in a car accident (caused by a heart attack?) a short time later. Marcella's husband divorces her.Fast forward about seven years. Marcella's daughter is working for Cecil's daughter. Marcella is having an affair with Cecil's son, Jed. And so the lives of the two families are once again intertwined.This is a good story. Tthe story is driven by the characters and their inner secrets and longings more than by the plot. Holly LeCraw did an excellent job of developing characters with real depth, which she reveals rather than explains, so I felt like I was gradually getting to know them.At the same time, there were enough plot twists to hold my interest, along with a web of secrets that became increasingly intriguing. There is a sub-plot about post-partum depression which is especially well done.Great writing, great characters, good story.
A tad confusing and hard to get into at first, but overall a great novel
The characters in this novel are all searching.....for love, for fullfillment and for answers to family tragedies. The novel jumps back and forth in time as we watch the choices the characters make and their futures unfold. Unfortunately the stories are disjointed. It is impossible to lose yourself in this novel - the various stories switch too abruptly and do not ring true. The author obviously is working very hard to create a psychological thriller. Since this is an early reviewers copy I forced myself to finish it; but by the big reveal at the end I just didn't care.
First-time novelist, Holly LeCraw, has written an intriguing book, containing characters of depth from damaged families and a complex story full of mystery and desire. There are plot twists enough to keep a reader turning the pages late into the night.The book is written with jumps back and forth in time. I sometimes find this distracting if I¿m am unable to read in large blocks of uninterrupted time, but that was not a problem with The Swimming Pool. (Looks like I was one of the lucky ones when I read some of the other reviews out on LT.)I loved it. She has a hit on her hands. On sale in April of 2010.
I wanted to like this book, but mostly I was frustrated by it. The characters were so guilt-ridden over everything they couldn't see what was in front of them -- like the new mom with obvious post-partum depression that no one took in for help. I kept reading, hoping some of the characters would get some kind of closure or at least peace, but it never happened and I couldn't really figure out what the point of the book was.
I received this book from the Early Reviewers group. I got the book on Saturday and finished it Sunday night. With two year old twins that should speak to how much I sunk into this story.The multi-generational storyline was great and told very well from all angles. It was sexy without being raunchy and the way the chapters went from present to past kept me reading to see what would happen next. This is the perfect summer-time read and I look forward to the next work by this new author. The only negative I would note was that at times it seemed that the author was using a thesaurus to just toss in a big word here and there. I much preferred the every-day conversational tone of the book.
Although there were times when reading 'The Swimming Pool' that it felt as though Holly LeCraw over used her thesaurus, it was overall a great read. Well written with believably flawed characters all working through their own emotions. It is about family, love, loss, and desire. I would definitely read more by LeCraw had this not been her debut.
"The Swimming Pool" by Holly LeCraw is a very solid book. There is a palpable sense of dread from the very first pages that holds steady to the ending. There are several unexpected twists and turns along the way. The story also has stuck with me for the last several days. Pick it up, you won't be sorry.
When Jed and his sister were teenagers their mother was murdered by an intruder. Their dad was a suspect and the crime was never solved. Jed quits his job to help his sister cope with post partum depression and moves to the family's summer home with her. While he is there he finds a bathing suit in a closet and remembers it belonged to Marcella, an acquaintance of the family. Jed is intrigued and suspicious and seeks out Marcella to find answers. They begin an unlikely affair and eventually Jed discovers the truth of his father's affair and his where abouts on the night his mother was murdered.
The story follows two families Marcella, Anthony and daughter Toni and Betsey, Cecil and their children Jed and Callie. It switches between the present and 7 years earlier when Betsey was murdered and Cecil died of a heart attack. Marcella and Anthony are divorced, a result of her affair with Cecil. The murder is unsolved, and while Jed repeatedly talks of going to the police to provide additional information, it remains unsolved. The story focuses on Marcella and Jed but brings to light how the events of the earlier time affected all the characters. An interesting read.
The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw is a story of love, betrayal and murder, but it is hard to read, very slow-paced. The story follows families who have ties to the Cape that go back several years with an unsolved murder. The author does develop each character and gives a glimpse of what makes them tick. The storyline does keep us guessing till the end. I'd say that it was merely OK.
The Swimming Pool is a story about two families who are forever linked by the illicit affair of Marcella Atkinson, a wife and mother of a teenage girl, Toni, and Cecil McClatchey, a neighbor and a married man with two children. There is a murder, a suspicious accident, and then a love affair between Marcella and Cecil's own son, Jed. I found the main character, Marcella, very selfish and therefore unlikeable. She loves her daughter, Toni, but I find no redeeming qualities in her actions otherwise. A weak woman. The story jumps back and forth between present and past tense which bothered me at first. Due to the first affair, family members on both sides were deeply hurt, and after the death of her lover, it seems almost inevitable that Marcella, whom Jed had admired as a young college student, would find herself ensnared in a physical relationship with Jed. I gave the book four stars because in spite of the moral depravity (sorry if I seem too judgmental, but this is my review), the book is very well written. I believe Ms. Lecraw has a bestseller on her hands and applaud her writing ability.
The Swimming Pool is a story about complex relationships, family ties and past secrets. Holly Lecraw has a wonderful way with words and in the beginning this story pulled me right in. Although, I did not feel this way throughout the entire novel. I lost interest in the characters and story line and felt some of the relationship aspects to be unrealistic. I wanted a bit more action and a better defined ending to this story.
[Warning: this review contains elements that would qualify as spoilers to many potential readers, though I have made an effort to leave some things unsaid.]For me, this book lagged and left more unanswered questions than I would have liked. While the characters were all right, there was no one I really came to care about or root for. Marcella is the central character and while she was generally fully-shaped as a character, her Italian accent was simply rendered by the annoying lack of contractions in her English speech (at least, I assume rendering her accent was the point of that little literary idiosyncracy) and some of her motivation for certain of her actions were left unspoken while others were quite fully examined. Other characters were less fully drawn out, though, generally, everyone seemed humanly flawed and there was no danger of anyone coming off as too good to be true.The story is non-linear, weaving from the present to different segments of the past. While it is made clear fairly early on that there has been a murder (Betsey, wife to Cecil and mother of Jed and Callie, who are now adults in their 20s) and that there has been an affair, there are also hints that something much more sinister than a mere affair has taken place. And while what is eventually revealed does constitute "more than a mere affair," it does not live up to what has been foreshadowed. Ultimately, the cause of Betsey's murder is still left uncertain. Meanwhile, there is also some progressive foreshadowing that all is not well with Callie, the mother of two young children, who appears to be suffering from depression. This is left mostly unexplored until it explodes into an attempted suicide.I often found my mind wandering as I read this. Often, I would re-read what I hadn't absorbed, not wanting to miss anything key. Usually when I re-read, I found nothing key. Perhaps I did miss some important information, and that is why I was left unsatisfied by the ending, but I doubt it.Overall, this felt like a bit of a soap opera.
I just can't take it anymore! I got to page 181 and I have tried and tried to care about the characters and care about how this all ties in, but I just can't. Everyone is moody and brooding and there is no plot - so far, everyone is just thinking about the past. The flashbacks move so slowly. I'm not compelled by the characters and I was hoping for a firmer sense of place with the Cape Cod setting. I gave it my best shot, but I just can't recommend this one.
I did enjoy this book. I thought it was well written and kept me interested from the beginning. It was a combination of mystery and love story all rolled into one and I agree with other reviewers that it is a great summer read. I tend not to like to read too many details of intimate encounters but that is just me. There were only a few so it wasn't overkill. All in all, I enjoyed it and read through it quickly.
Holly LeCraw is a mastermind at creating characters. The loneliness, the innocent, the lusting, the betrayed and hurting characters are so well written you can't hate them. You sense what has driven each character to the place they are today and even though you might find some of them morally wrong it is hard to pass judgment on them when you hear how tortured they are within their own minds and how they just long to be punished. Jed's sister, Callie, I found particularly interesting. She was in college, just as Jed, when she lost her mother. Now with the lose of both parents and the arrival of a new baby, life has just swallowed her whole. This is a character I would normally hate but Holly wrote her so well I could understand her maddening world she was living in. A book of mystery. Just when every character seems to have gotten their answers and some sort of peace the book takes a twist and nothing is what it seems. Perfect beach and summer read full of mystery, love, desperation and believable characters.
I found The Swimming Pool to be quite a good book. While some of the events were a little too coincidental, the story was very solid and kept the feeling of suspense throughout. This book is a very good effort in showing that you can't bury your past and the truth always finds itself to the surface. A great summer read!
When I call Holly de Graw¿s The Swimming Pool, an excellent summer read, it isn¿t because it has mindless beach fare appeal, but because even though it is a complex debut, it has enough heat to contend with your guiltiest pleasures. Holly de Graw builds suspense and mystery into her family drama without resorting to gimmicks or clichés, and instead offers something that feels more innovative than expected. After his sister gives birth, Jed moves to his family¿s summer home to help with his new niece and nephew. His nostalgia culminates in the discovery of a swimsuit that recognizes as belonging to, Marcella, who was a family acquaintance the summer both of his parents died; his mother was murdered and his father died quickly after in a car accident. Jed confronts the only person who may be able to resolve some of the questions haunting him about that summer¿his father¿s mistress. Unexpectedly embarking on an illicit affair of his own, and discovering much more about that summer, lessons that could help him save his family in the present. LeGraw¿s talent is in her subtlety. Nothing in the novel feels forced despite a plot line that could have veered soap operatic. Instead LeGraw manages to work a cyclical sins of the father take into her story giving a stark portrayal of two broken families and the repercussions and ripple effect of secrets. I loved this novel.
I received this book as part of the Early Reviewers group. Its an interesting story. Part mystery. Part Romance. Part family drama. I enjoyed the book but I expected more of a twist at the end after reading the description on the back of the book. I did not agree with how one of the main male characters died. It didn't seem to fit his personality. Also, I didn't LOVE the main female character. She seemed so weak. I found the secondary story about postpartum depression very interesting and would have liked to read more about that character and her story. This book is definitely an easy quick read.
The consequences of a passionate affair seven years ago reverberate through multiple generations of two families with tragic consequences. Throw in an unsolved murder, a new affair, guilt over the past and present, a tragic accident, a suicide attempt, family dysfunction, postpartum depression and secrets kept and revealed and you've got the complex stew of The Swimming Pool. Although I thought there were a few too many plot elements, LeCraw does a great job of creating believable characters and weaving the stories of the past and present into a complex, compelling mix.
This is a story about an affair and a subsequent murder in Cape Cod. The book weaves in and out between the past and the present. In the past Marcella carries on an affair with Cecil at her summer residence in Cape Cod. The affair continues after the summer but eventually Cecil calls it off. The breakup happens just before Cecil's wife is found murdered in the swimming pool. Not long after this Cecil dies in a car accident. Fast forward to the present and Marcella's daughter Toni is working for Cecil's daughter Callie, as a nanny. During this time Marcella carries on a relationship with Cecil's son Jed and secrets from the past come up and drama ensues. I enjoyed the author's writing style. LeCraw really focuses on character development and you really get a sense of who the character is and how they may react to different situations. This being said, I had a hard time really feeling sympathy for Marcella. She seemed a bit cold to me and I couldn't understand why she would repeat the mistakes of the past. On the other hand, I found the character of Callie to be spilling over with emotion and I couldn't help but get frustrated with the men around her for not noticing something was very off. The book centers on the mother's unsolved murder yet I found that I wasn't completely satisfied with the explanation at the end of the novel. This could be the author's technique to help make point that the characters don't really seem to be satisfied at all. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book but it was not one of my favourites and for this reason I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.
The Swimming Pool follows the lives of two damaged families, alternating between the past and present as seen through the eyes of Marcella. A lonely woman, Marcella is paying the price for her long ago affair with Cicil, the result of this affair ended her marriage and damaged her relationship with her daugher. Marcella's daughter takes a summer job as a nanny for one of Cicil's now grown children. It is here that she meets Cicil's son, Jed with whom she begans a fervent affair. A passionate tale and modern tragedy that ends with some form of hope for all those involved.