“Swimming at night, to compare its slipperiness to that of a dream would be to ignore the work of staying afloat, the mesmerism brought on by the rhythm, the repetition of the strokes.”
Beneath the surface of Lake Michigan there are vast systems: crosscutting currents, sudden drop-offs, depths of absolute darkness, shipwrecked bodies, hidden places. Peter Rock’s stunning autobiographical novel begins in the ’90s on the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin. The narrator, a recent college graduate, and a young widow, Mrs. Abel, swim together at night, making their way across miles of open water, navigating the currents and swells and carried by the rise and fall of the lake. The nature of these night swims, and of his relationship to Mrs. Abel, becomes increasingly mysterious to the narrator as the summer passes, until the night that Mrs. Abel disappears.
Twenty years later, the narrator—now married with two daughters—tries to understand those months, his forgotten obsessions and dreams. Digging into old notebooks and letters, as well as clippings he’s preserved on the “psychic photography” of Ted Serios and scribbled quotations from Rilke and Chekhov, the narrator rebuilds a world he’s lost. He also looks for clues to the fate of Mrs. Abel, and begins once again to swim distances in dark water.
The haunting, elegaic latest from the author of My Abandonment zeroes in on the summer and early fall of 1994 for a man's stay at his family cabin on Wisconsin's Door Peninsula. Twenty-six and dreaming of becoming a writer, the unnamed narrator works on stories during the day and at night swims in Lake Michigan. At first, he swims by himself. Later, he is joined by a mysterious young widow who lives a few cabins down from his. Mrs. Abel, as he always refers to her, is a source of gossip for the staid vacationers who surround her, and she dazzles the narrator when she appears unconcernedly nude for their long swims. On one eventful night, they reach a shoal neither knew existed, and Mrs. Abel disappears, only to reappear a few days later with an uncanny account of her experiences while missing. Its story of repressed or simply forgotten memories making their way to the surface echoes the narrator's sense of the currents of the Great Lakes, "subtler and more quietly sinister than those of the ocean." Though it eschews linear plot and resolution, the book's moody sense of hidden depths and dangers will intrigue those open to an atmospheric and contemplative novel.