The Night Swimmers (2019)
“Among the many pleasures of this riveting book is its intertextual nature: stitched through the story are old letters to a past lover, new emails from the past lover, the diary of a dead painter, a literary rejection note, and other bright scraps. The Night Swimmers is a beautiful delving, a rapturous dive into the mysteries of ordinary life.”
“Peter Rock has written a weird and haunting story about a younger man and an older woman who like to swim in the dark. Happily The Night Swimmers is no male coming-of-age story. Instead their secret nightly practice in a dark and foreboding lake shimmers as a queer refusal for either of them to grow up right.”
“I sat down to read Peter Rock’s new novel, The Night Swimmers, and didn’t get up again until I’d finished, heart in throat, tears in eyes, mind spinning with all the things this kaleidoscopic book is about.”
Beneath the surface of Lake Michigan there are vast systems: crosscutting currents, sudden drop-offs, depths of absolute darkness, shipwrecked bodies, hidden places. Peter Rock’s stunning auto-biographical novel begins in the 90s on the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin, where the narrator, a man recently graduated from college, and a young widow, Mrs. Abel, swim together at night, making their way across miles of open water, navigating the currents and swells, the rise and fall of the lake. The nature of these night swims, and of his relationship to Mrs. Abel, becomes increasingly mysterious to the narrator as the summer passes, until the night that Mrs. Abel disappears.
Twenty years later, the narrator—now married with two daughters—tries to understand that time, his obsessions and dreams. Digging into old notebooks and letters, as well as clippings he’s preserved on the “psychic photography” of Ted Serios and scribbled quotations from Rilke and Chekhov, the narrator rebuilds a world he’s lost—those searching and uncertain drives, his vague wish to be a writer. He also searches for clues to the fate of Mrs. Abel, and begins once again to swim distances in dark water.
A novel of highly charged and transformative thought and soaring physicality, The Night Swimmers explores the depths of an identity in motion with lyrical insight and reflective imagination few works of fiction can summon. It lays bare what it means to come to terms with your fraught and weighted choices as you struggle to make peace with the person you’ve found yourself to be.