Learning to Swim
By: Sara J. Henry
I picked this one up at a book sale, largely because of the mention of Lake Champlain and the surrounding area. My family used to go on vacations there, and it seemed nifty to read about a place I’m familiar with. I guess a story about a boy thrown off the back of a ferry and his rescuer had something to do with it too.
Being yet another first person narrative (I seem to be reading a lot of those lately) the story moves quickly, and it’s a short book at less than three hundred pages. As I said, a boy is thrown off a ferry and the main character, Troy Chance (who is a woman by the way), leaps in after him and just manages to keep both of them alive. Then she needs to figure out what to do to keep him safe, including finding his father and those who harmed him. The inside jacket of the book describes it like this:
“What she uncovers will take her into a world of wealth and privilege and heedless self-indulgence – a world in which the murder of a child is not unthinkable. She’ll need skill and courage to survive and protect her charge and herself.”
But this is a little misleading. This description had me envisioning lavish parties, and a host of wealthy suspects…something a little like Clue perhaps. I imagined the main character hiding in a closet in some mansion, the boy in her arms, hoping he wouldn’t make a sound while some crazy, rich, psycho stalked just outside the door. The story is quite different from that. Yes there is some wealth, and a couple suspects, but I wouldn’t call it a world where the murder of a child is not unthinkable, more just the mentality of the person or persons (I won’t give anything away here I promise) who wanted him dead.
There was actually a surprising amount of downtime in this story. There were a few events involving skill and courage, but it wasn’t the whole thing, which is not what I expected. And it’s in this down time that I have a little bit of a criticism. Too many details!
Details, to a point, are vital to making a story seem real, but when the details seem arbitrary, and do nothing to give the reader insight into the nature of the character or the world in which the story takes place, then they just clutter up a page. I don’t need to know that she used Microsoft Outlook to check email, or MapQuest to print a map, or that she had a TracFone, used Twitter, Craigslist (this one might be the only one that’s ok), or watched something on Netflix. The flavor of her bagel or the Ragu she put over some pasta didn’t really help me either.
Then she went on to detail basic computer maintenance more than once like running spyware programs or defragging the hard drive. Finally, since the author is a bicycle enthusiast and her protagonist is also, there was quite a lot about bike repair and maintenance, which is a little reminiscent of Clive Cussler novels where he spends a lot of time on details about a fancy submersible. Where’s all the intrigue and suspense in this world of privilege and heedless self-indulgence?
Despite this complaint, it was a good story but not a great one in my opinion. It moved quickly, so even with all the downtime, it never felt slow. The little boy is completely adorable, and the story ended with a bit of a twist, but I had kind of guessed at who was responsible for everything.
The author has a second book out with the Troy Chance character, only this time it’s winter in the Adirondacks, which I have to admit I find intriguing. I might read that one eventually, but it won’t be at the top of my list. Until next time…