A few weeks ago I picked up this book at my favorite bookstore in Brooklyn and dove right in. Since I have been doing so much reading for work, I figured a collection of short stories would be prefect, especially for my five-minute commute to work (yes, I have to brag). I read my favorite just the other day while taking the train to the Museum of Natural History to see Journey to the Stars.
To start, this novel was named one of the Top Ten Fiction Books of 2007 by Time magazine for good reason. July is brilliantly creative, depicting stories whose characters often escape into the world of fantasy when reality disappoints them. Each quirky character seems to be part yourself – at least for me – and part everyone you have ever known.
“The Swim Team” depicts a young woman whose lack of a pool does not deter her from giving swim lessons to adults on her kitchen floor. We are introduced to the speaker as having just broken up with her boyfriend:
“This is the story I wouldn’t tell you when I was your girlfriend. You kept asking and asking, you’re your guesses were so lurid and specific. Was I a kept woman? Was Belvedere like Nevada, where prostitution is legal? Was I naked for the entire year? The reality began to seem barren. And in time I realized that if the truth felt empty, then I probably would not be your girlfriend much longer.”
The speaker then jumps ahead in time and describes a group of people she met who had never learned how to swim. As she looks down at her brown linoleum floor, thinking about how it hadn’t been washed in forever, she “suddenly felt like she was going to die. But instead of dying, [she] said: I can teach you how to swim. And we don’t even need a pool”.
The swimming lessons commence on the kitchen floor and are described in such a nonsensical manner that you can’t help but laugh out loud.
“I showed them how to put their noses and mouths in [bowls of salt water] and how to take a breath to the side. Then we added the legs, and then the arms… I taught them strokes I knew. The butterfly was just incredible, like nothing you’ve ever seen. I thought the kitchen floor would give in and turn liquid and away they would go.”
She even goes on to teach dives. “With the meticulous, hands-on coaching method, all dives began with perfect form, poised on my desktop, and ended in a belly flop onto the bed. Elizabeth added a rule that we all had to make a noise when we fell. This was a little creative for my taste, but I was open to innovation.” This last line reminds me of those people who order a super-sized meal with a diet coke. The nonsense of it all, I can’t help but smile.
To end, the speaker goes on to once again address her ex-boyfriend, closing with:
“Who I miss now, tonight? is Elizabeth, Kelda, and Jack Jack. They are dead, of this I can be sure. What a tremendously sad feeling. I must be the saddest swim coach in all of history.”
There is slight repetition in the book since each character in the stories seem to resemble each other in their odd behavior and quirkiness, but July manages this repetition in such a way that is builds a refreshingly risible motif.
Even though I gave away the entire plot of “The Swim Team,” No One Belongs Here More Than You includes 15 other deliciously crafted stories. Absolutely a must read.