Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Night Swimmer by Matt Bondurant

Fred and Elly Bulkington are the luckiest couple alive.  They have won a genuine Irish pub in a contest, lock stock and barrel.  All they have to do is open the doors and their new lives will begin.

But this is not the Ireland of sunny skies, laughing children and warm communities.  This is the Ireland flung out on the outskirts of civilization, a dark, brooding, inbreed place where anyone not born there is called a 'blow-in'.  A place with secrets that outsiders only catch occasional glimpses of.  A place that is ruled by one family and where everyone else bows to that family's wishes.  A place of menace, contrasted with occasional flashes of casual violence.

Fred opens the doors, but customers are few and far between.  The only tourists who come here are birders, as this is the first landfall for migrating birds.  Elly is a distance swimmer, the kind of swimmer who only feels alive in the water.  She spends her time swimming in the ocean, an occupation that the natives view suspiciously.  To them the water is a necessary evil, a force that gives livilhoods but in return may demand a life in payment.  The couple is ostracized, not overt acts but just treated as if they don't exist.  The strain mounts with Fred falling into the bottle and their marriage starting to crack.  Will they be able to make a go of things in this remote, desolate place?

Matt Bondurant has written a stunning book, one that grips the reader, insinuating its way into thoughts at strange times, leaving behind an impulse to drop whatever is being done to get back to Elly and Fred's story.  The language is brooding, building suspense with each vignette the story unfolds, leading to a climatic finish that won't be soon forgotten.  This book is recommended for all readers who are interested in connection and remoteness and how we find our way in the world, clinging to others to save us from the cruelty we encounter. 

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