Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller


A beautifully written story about a flawed family who’s memories and hopes over time get confused with reality.  Ingrid, a college student, and Gil, her professor, have an unconventional love affair leading to pregnancy. This forces Ingrid to give up her academic goals in order to marry Gil and raise her two daughters, Flora and Nan.  Gil’s primary focus is  writing and all his family responsibilities are neglected while his relationships go unnurtured.  During the couples years together, Ingrid writes letters to Gil about how she is feeling about motherhood, their marriage, and what she discovers about him, but instead of giving him the letters she hides them in his books.  Then one day she is gone.  Did she drown like many are saying or did she run away from the life she had with Gil and her young daughters?

Years later the daughters return home to take care of Gil who has been in an accident.  He has fallen while chasing a woman he thinks is his wife, Ingrid.  One daughter insists he was wrong and going senile while the other is open to the possibility of her mother miraculously being alive.  There was never any proof of death and when the girls were younger Gil had said “It is difficult to live with both hope and grief,” she may be waiting for us when we get home, or, she’s dead. “A balancing act.”  And later on in age he questioned whether it is better to live with imagination and hope or to know the truth. Ultimately he told his daughters it is not good to “have an imagination which is more vivid, wilder, than real life”.

Gil was the proclaimed writer yet he only wrote one book, which Ingrid spawned and dictated to him.  She wrote all the letters to him expressing her feelings and recounting their courtship and marriage.  He was a dreamer, a philanderer and a collector of books with writings in the margins.  His interest was in the handwritten notes; they told him about the reader.  He said, “Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important.”   Ingrid gave up her hopes and dreams and struggled with marriage and being a mother and Gil’s lack of success as a writer, husband and father made for a heartbreaking story.

Author Claire Fuller delves into love, a dysfunctional marriage, and contemplates the value of truth and living with unrealistic hope.  The complex characters deal with their own selective memories and ambiguous loss where there is no closure.  Swimming Lessons was an engrossing, thought-provoking novel.

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