Saturday, September 17, 2011

Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer

 Monday, October 17 
1 p.m.

Discussion leader: Ellen Getreu

Packer's sterling collection of stories is framed by two novellas: "Walk for Mankind" about teenager Richard Appleby and his bittersweet relationship with Sasha Horowitz, a rebellious, risk-taking 14-year-old, who has a clandestine affair with a drug dealer; and, "Things Said or Done" set three decades later, when Sasha, now 51 and divorced, has become her father's caretaker.

Reserve your copy of Swim Back to Me on ALIScat

 Book Reviews from the Novelist database:

For readers of short fiction, these three short stories and three novellas will be delightful. Packer, author of the novel The Dive from Clausen’s Pier (2002), proves as adept with shorter forms as she is with novels. As expected from a winner of the Alex Award, the young characters that appear in this collection, though few, are well rounded and memorable. But even more memorable are the adults: the Yale graduate who can’t hold a job and is descending the teaching ladder, the apprehensive husband whose pregnant wife lost her first child to SIDS, and the second-time-around wife whose life is disrupted when her new husband disappears. Many of these people live in California, and readers will be almost blinded by the white sunlight and will feel the verdant shade of the forest in Packer’s powerfully described settings. These resonant, memorable stories evoke difficulties in family life and will appeal to those who enjoy such disparate writers as Lee Smith, A. S. Byatt, and ZZ Packer. Delicious! -- Loughran, Ellen (Reviewed 03-01-2011) (Booklist, vol 107, number 13, p28) 
Publishers Weekly:
Packer's sterling collection is framed by two novellas. In the opener, "Walk for Mankind," teenager Richard Appleby describes his bittersweet relationship with Sasha Horowitz, a rebellious, risk-taking 14-year-old, who has a clandestine affair with a drug dealer. Sasha's behavior is a reaction to her controlling and hyper-charming father, an English professor who's spiraling downward professionally and personally. "Things Said or Done" is set three decades later, when Sasha, now 51 and divorced, has become Richard's [sic] caretaker, forced to deal with his self-destructive, narcissistic personality while recognizing the ways in which they are alike. Packer's talents are evident in these psychologically astute novellas, and also in the stories in between. "Molten" conveys a mother's grief over her adolescent son's senseless death; "Dwell Time" features a protagonist's happy second marriage—until her husband disappears. In the affecting "Her First Born," a new father finally understands his wife's attachment to the memory of her first child, who died. The only misstep is "Jump," whose lead character, a rich man's son who fakes an underprivileged background to work in a photocopy shop, lacks credibility. Packer (The Dive from Clausen's Pier) presents complex human relationships with unsentimental compassion. (Apr.) --Staff (Reviewed December 13, 2010) (Publishers Weekly, vol 257, issue 49, p) 
Library Journal:
This new collection from Packer (The Dive from Clausen's Pier ) is framed by two stunning first-person narratives that introduce readers to two academic families briefly converging in and around Stanford in the 1970s. In each case, the narrator comes from the second generation. The opening story, "Walk for Mankind," captures the viewpoint of the teenage son of an established Stanford history professor, while the closing piece, "Things Said and Done," gives voice to the adventurous daughter of a visiting instructor taking a step down from Yale for a one-year appointment in Palo Alto. In each instance, Packer pulls the strings in such a way that the itinerant father, doomed by his difficult personality to a life perpetually lived off the tenure track, becomes the focal point. Unfortunately, or perhaps inevitably, the other four stories in the volume, though well crafted and engaging, have the feel of problems solved rather than lives fully lived. VERDICT Whereas some great short story writers stumble with the sprawl of a novel, Packer, who occasionally works on a smaller scale, appears to be a novelist at heart. Still, these California stories are expansive and open-ended. It's hard to let them go. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/10.]— Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA --Sue Russell (Reviewed January 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 1, p92) 
/* Starred Review */ A novella and five stories limn with acuity and empathy the intricate negotiations and painful losses of family life.To Richard, the 13-year-old narrator of "Walk for Mankind," his new friend Sasha's parents, Dan and Joanie Horowitz, seem happier and much more fun than his morose father and his well-intentioned, much-resented? mother, who left her husband and son to move out to Oakland because she "needed to do something useful with my life." But Sasha's escapades with sex and drugs over the course of the 1972-3 school year reveal fissures in the Horowitzes' cheerfully bohemian fa??ade even before Dan loses his job at Stanford—and before the collection's final story, "Things Said or Done," revisits Sasha decades later. There, on the eve of her brother's wedding, she copes with impossible Dan, the novella's charming scapegrace now revealed as a terminal narcissist, and quietly seethes over the disengagement of Joanie, who long ago checked out of the drama. Families are fragile in these gently unsparing stories; the death of a child drives both "Molten," a scarifying snapshot of raw grief, and "Her Firstborn," the tender story of a young father-to-be haunted by the knowledge that his wife's previous marriage was destroyed by the crib death of her 5-month-old son. It's characteristic of Packer's subtle artistry that "Her Firstborn" climaxes with a sentence whose emotional force derives from the insertion of a comma. Her prose is deceptively simple, her insights always complex. "Dwell Time," another portrait of a second marriage, shows a woman realizing that her new husband has not shed all his demons with his divorce and deciding that she will try to live with them. Acknowledging the hurt and sorrow our loved ones bring us, the author never forgets to trace the joys of intimacy as well.Touching, tender and true—short fiction nearly as rich and satisfying as Packer's two fine novels (Songs Without Words, 2007, etc.).(Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2010)