“This gripping first novel announces the arrival of a strong, distinct and fully evolved new voice.”
– Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
“An amazing new literary voice, Jessica Keener explores the fine-laced network of tangled familial relations in language both bold and intricate. Night Swim is the deeply moving and devastatingly beautiful work of a fearless writer.”
– Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants
“Keener’s observations perfectly capture a certain kind of 1970s adolescence: the adults who tried too hard, the sudden appearance of a joint when in the presence of older cousins, the way a grownup party could spin from fun to disturbing in a blink. Most exhilaratingly, she taps into the thrilling moments when a girl of 16 can see her future, whether in music or books or a boy’s smile.”
– Boston Globe
“I loved this novel. It was just breathtaking and I was really left in awe. There was not a wasted word, or scene or emotion that did not resonate or ring true.
The pages ached.”
– Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You
“I could not put this book down. I related to so much of this, the whole demographic. Jessica Keener is an exquisite writer. Her observations are as good as good literature gets. Masterful. I tore through this at warp speed. Simple and gorgeous. I haven't read something with so much hunger in a long time.”
– Risa Miller, author of Welcome to Heavenly Heights, PEN Discovery Award winner.
Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz lives in a posh, suburban world of 1970 Boston. From the outside, her parents' lifestyle appears enviable - a world defined by cocktail parties, expensive cars, and live-in maids to care for their children - but inside their five-bedroom house, all is not well for the Kunitz family. Coming home from school, Sarah finds her well-dressed, pill-popping mother lying disheveled on their living room couch. At night, to escape their parents' arguments, Sarah and her oldest brother, Peter, find solace in music, while her two younger brothers retreat to their rooms and imaginary lives. Any vestige of decorum and stability drains away when a family tragedy occurs one terrible winter day. Soon after, their father, a self-absorbed, bombastic professor begins an affair with a younger colleague. Sarah, aggrieved, dives into two summer romances that lead to unforeseen consequences.
In a story that will make you laugh and cry, NIGHT SWIM shows how a family, bound by heartache, learns to love again.
Keener's debut novel is a coming-of-age story that begins, like so many remembrances, with a voice from the past middle-aged Sarah Kunitz is married with three grown children, but is called back to her own childhood when an unexpected email arrives from Mickey Fineburg, the boy she kissed under a broken pool table at age eight. The majority of the novel comprises vivid vignettes wherein Sarah recalls being a teenager in 1970s upper-class suburban Boston, the only daughter among three brothers. When Sarah's mother tragically dies in a car crash, the young protagonist is prematurely propelled into adulthood and its concomitant dramas of sex, self-discovery, and coping with inevitable loss. While each chapter feels self-sufficient, their loose ordering lends a dreamlike quality to the novel, appropriate for a recollection begun at a "deep hour" of night, when time "doesn't follow lines but circles and dips into underwater caves." Though occasionally belabored by grander themes for the most part left unexplored (e.g., Sarah's Jewish heritage and brushes with anti-Semitism), as well as unbalanced language (compare the weirdly comic description of a sexual encounter as "a quick, slippery ride" with the poetically strange notion of the sun resembling a fetus), Keener's evocation of a young woman coming into her own is nevertheless moving.