Thursday, September 21, 2006

Night Swimming by Robin Schwarz

I picked up "Night Swimming" at my son's elementary school book fair, mostly out of self defense. My son had managed, like a lot of kids in that small room stacked to the rafters with books, to grab a whole pile of books he wanted to read and to have read to him, and most of them were, regretably, SpongeBob Squarepants stories. Spongebob is an innocuous, silly cartoon character who also happens to be very naive and stupid. I find that in watching the show, I get bored rather quickly, and the books are similar, in that I can only read one or two before wanting to feed them to a paper shredder out of irritation. So I happened to see that Scholastic had this mass market paperback, Night Swimming, for sale, along with some titles by well-known authors, and I grabbed it, thinking it couldn't be too bad if it was published by the same pub house that produced Harry Potter novels for the US market. I have to admit that I was also attracted by the theme of a larger woman breaking out of her routine to create a new life, as that's something that is on my mind a great deal lately. I was surprised and dismayed to discover that the novel wasn't empowering in its view of larger people, but denigrating, in somewhat the same way Wally Lamb treated fat as some kind of hideous disease in "Shes Come Undone," one of the novels high on my Most Despicable list. Schwarz creates an interesting, if naive and stupid character in Charlotte, a woman who weighs over 250, and is therefore described as being disgusting and grotesque, and only fit to wear mumuus and tent dresses. As if there isn't any fashionable clothing over size 8. Ha. That may have been true when I was a teenager, but it certainly isn't true today. Charlotte is told that she has a year to live, and in response, she quits her dull job at the bank and later robs the place of 2 million, and sets out to find love and happiness in Hollywood. She stops at several memorable places along the way, and has predictable encounters with "Deliverance" type of Southerners and an old wise granny (cliches! Arg!) and meets up with a rich Jewish woman (another cliche!) in Hollywood who, of course, takes her under her wing and teaches her how to give to poor sick children and learn to love someone without stalking them. Inevitably, Charlotte, who changes her name to Blossom, falls for a handsome lawyer turned pool boy (and that happens so often, of course...ha) and ends up throwing all her money away in Las Vegas out of sheer ignorance and there really anyone who doesn't know that the odds are always with the house in Las Vegas? Is there anyone who doesn't know that the city is nicknamed "lost wages" for a reason? Sometimes, ignorance can be charming, as it was with Bridget Jones, the first chick lit heroine. Schwarz didn't really manage to make Charlotte/Blossom that charming, as she was always spouting cliches and always doing ridiculous romance-novel-heroine things to gain the love of her pool boy. The trial at the end of the book is laughably unrealistic, as Charlotte is exonerated of all charges and allowed to go free and marry the shallow pool boy, who wants to become an architect. Oh PULLLLEASE! No one just gets off scott free after robbing a bank! Doesn't happen! The cover blurbs said this book would make me want to cheer. It made me want to contact the author and tell her to take some classes and learn to write fiction that isn't cliche ridden and create characters that aren't perfect stereotypes and one-dimensional. It's obvious that she is a new author, too, in the way her prose goes from decent to awkward and embarrassing, almost formulaic. I felt as if the author had purchased a book on writing chick lit and followed the instructions to the letter, thereby satisfying the form, but not the spirit of the genre. It is clear that Schwarz has talent, but not enough skill to pull off a great work. This is an average book, an okay read and a nice little distraction full of the cliches and shortcuts we've all come to expect from modern novels. However, I think Schwarz is capable of something much more original, fun and juicy. All she needs is a bit more work honing her writing, and a good editor to ride herd on her penchant for cliches (and typos...come on Scholastic, there is no excuse for publishing a book with 5 blatant typos!) I would recommend, too, that Schwarz spend time talking to larger women who have been that way most of their lives, and learn that you can be a larger person and still get a man, a good job, have a family and lead a decent life. You don't have to lose weight to be attractive, intelligent or valuable as a human being. Free your mind, Ms Schwarz, and the rest will follow, as the song says.

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