May 15 2007
Dear Ms James,
I read the first review you have up on your blog and that, plus having peeked at the ending, had already told me that this isn’t a standard romance story. Some people might be put off trying it at this point but I hope that they’ll keep reading this letter and decide to give your debut novel a chance as the writing is excellent and the story realistic.
A story about love, friendship, fidelity, and betrayal– and how the birth of a child can change everything.
Sarah has everything she ever wanted–"the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with, a house in the country, and a baby on the way. If only Brett were more enthusiastic about their new arrival, and just a little less ambivalent about their relationship.
After baby Josh is born, Sarah and Brett are put to the test. But can they overcome the challenges of parenthood– and a certain neighbor who has more than just a friendly interest in their new family?
I’ve heard that in any relationship, there is always one who loves more and can be hurt more. Sarah is certainly that person. You lay this out in the beginning so there’s no question but that there will be problems and heartaches ahead. But will there ultimately be a chance for these two to work out a long-lasting relationship?
I like that you show the good and bad side of each character and that we see this from both points of view. It kept my empathy and anger alive for both Brett and Sarah. I could see how each person felt in the relationship and how easily things could be misunderstood. Neither person was portrayed as totally sympathetic or villainous. One thing I noticed, and I don’t know if it was deliberate on your part, is that Brett has almost the same thing to say about all his female co-workers in Sydney — that each has a reputation for bitchiness or taking charge. I had to wonder if this was your way of saying something about his views on women and why he had hooked up with Sarah in the first place or why their problems escalated at the end when Sarah was exhausted caring for their baby?
I think you did a good job showing how their upbringing influences both of them. Neither Brett nor Sarah grew up in standard nuclear family. Brett’s mother and stepfather had an alcoholic, tempestuous relationship which he tried to escape from then but which he now holds up as an example of the romantic, passionate love he’s searching for. It’s only when he thinks he’s lost it that he sees what he has with Sarah. Sarah was snotty to her stepmother while growing up but now longs for the close family she lost when her mother died at such a young age. He joy at her pregnancy finally brings home the pain her father and stepmother went through in their own attempts to have a family and helps to reconcile Sarah to them.
I guess the ultimate question of the book is should parents having relationship problems stay together for sake of child or is it better in some cases for parents to separate? Coming from a family with its share of problems, I’ve seen one side of it and in my opinion Sarah makes the best choice in what she does. Will it remain her long term choice? I think you finished the book at the correct moment and I like the open ending. One thing I will say is that your book is one of the best I’ve read at describing the powerful bond between a mother and child. Yet it also shows just how much work a stay a home parent does and the toll to do this.
The writing in “Nightswimming” is great and I compulsively breezed through the story. It has a nice feel for place (Australia) and two main characters I was interested in despite, or perhaps because of, their flaws. Right now, I’m still pondering the title and how REM’s song fits the book. Nostalgia for the past? Pain at love lost? Time to pull out my own CDs and relive past years. I would like to see what you could do with a more standard romance but I’ll give this one a B.