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:: Water Dancer by Jenifer Levin
Water Dancer by Jenifer Levin
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Nominated for the PEN/Hemingway award,
is now available for the first time in ebook format.
tells the story of Dorey Thomas, a marathon swimmer training to cross the cold, brutal waters of the San Antonio Strait. It is a feat no other athlete has ever achieved. This swim will be her return to life after suffering a nervous breakdown. Her trainer, Sarge Olssen, faces an old enemy; for the San Antonio Strait took the life of his only son. Since then he and his wife, Ilana, have lived in isolation, torn from the world and from each other. Dorey’s year of training brings the passions of these three to the surface, becoming not only a test of physical endurance for Dorey but a test of the spirit for them all: a road to healing and redemption, and a rebirth of the ability to love. Swirling at the core of this mythical journey is water itself, the mysterious element of sustenance, destruction, transformation.
is a hard, rewarding book; about much more than swimming. This is a book I want my sons and daughters to read. The love felt and described is inspiring. It transcends the physical, sensual, sexual to the spiritual, the psychic. It touches on the essential quality of love, and takes us into depths and through currents almost unendurable, to new insights, new beaches.” – William Wharton, author of Birdy
“A Sargasso Sea of brilliant and startling images…Levin’s prose dazzles.” –
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
“An extraordinary first novel.” –
The Village Voice
Her crew had gone in after her and she was being hoisted up and over the side, into the boat. Twenty-nine hours, eleven minutes. She’d lost consciousness eight miles short of Benton Harbor. Watching them lift the limp body easily, swiftly, Rick realized his jaw ached, realized he’d been grinding his teeth all night and all day.
That evening in a hotel room in Benton Harbor he rocked back and forth on the edge of his bed. He switched on the TV and turned the sound off. Watched a young Laurence Olivier chase a young Merle Oberon over the MGM moors in black and white. Watched a commercial for Timex watches. This watch was a real survivor. You ran a truck over it and then tossed it off a cliff into the lashing waves of the Pacific, fished it out and sure enough it was still ticking. Sitting on the edge of the hotel room bed he rocked back and forth and then he cried. He cried a good long time. His heart pounded him to sleep with a frantic kind of beat, driving anxious blood-tides through the crazy splotches of that night’s dreams.
He’d woken to find a lot of the press still hanging around. It seemed a subtle change had occurred overnight, a shift in the emphasis of reportage. What had first been wired home to offices in Chicago, Detroit, and New York as a heartbreaking failure had become, instead, a magnificent attempt. She’d been hospitalized, of course. But remarkably, by evening of the day after she was sitting up in bed and by that night overriding doctors’ orders and holding court with a few reporters in her room. Saying things like that water was one of the meanest coldest bastards on earth and she’d certainly given it a run for the money hadn’t she. Sure had given just about as good as she got. Yes, yes, and if swimmers were boxers she guessed she’d be one of the world-class heavyweights, wouldn’t she. Sitting there propped up by pillows, she’d grinned and flexed a muscle. The men wrote things down. They kidded with her and she kidded back, asked her questions and she answered the ones she wanted to and spouted off some more philosophy and they agreed with everything she said, ate it all whole loving every minute, and when she said she was tired, time to call it quits for the night, they spontaneously cheered her.
There’d been a victory party that week. What the victory was, no one seemed to know exactly. Surely, though, it centered around her. The sense of triumph caught on. Some of the press people left, but others came in to Benton Harbor working on stories with different angles. Psychological angle, character-study angle. He hadn’t spent a second on any sketches. Hadn’t cracked open a pad, hadn’t unlatched his supply case. At the party he stood in one corner and watched her circulate. She’d suffered severe muscle spasms immediately afterward and still limped a little, still wasn’t free and easy lifting arms or moving her shoulders or turning her head, but her sunlit grin obscured all that. She wore silk, designer’s scarf. She looked pretty. He drank too much and wondered if she was stupid. There was that jocky cheerleader quality to her. Well maybe she was. He had another seven-and-seven and figured he’d test it out. He approached her while she was standing back from it all in a corner of her own. As he did with all women he might admire, Rick gave his best imitation of a drunken swine. He swaggered up without introducing himself and asked did she read much. She’d grinned then openly, almost gullibly, saying no, no, unfortunately that was one of the things she hadn’t seemed to have much time for of late although she had in the past and certainly hoped to again in the future, it was the kind of question most people didn’t ask her and she wondered why he had. Because, he told her, crunching on an ice cube, he’d been standing around wishing Joseph Conrad were here but before he mentioned that to her he’d wanted to make sure she knew who Joseph Conrad was. She gave him a sweet smile. Why Conrad? she wanted to know. He was taken off guard by the lack of rancor in her voice, her face. Why Conrad and not, say, Unamuno? So he thought a minute then finished his drink, saying because he’d been wondering if redemption were possible, and she considered that before staring him straight in the eye with the same good-natured smile on her face saying of course it was possible, as long as it was absolutely necessary it was also possible, and she guessed that was true not only of redemption but of anything and everything in life. You could look at every painfully difficult process kind of as an adventure, couldn’t you, or a challenge that brought out the best in you, didn’t he agree, it wasn’t only to be viewed as a dreary task you had to endure for the sake of some abstract moral attainment, and had he noticed the ceiling in this place? The lights on the chandelier there. Had he noticed the way they were set up, in perfect radiating circles so shadow patterns spread across the ceiling like a whirlpool, or a tornado. Good job of design there. Stylistically innovative despite the intended traditionalism of the chandelier itself.
He followed her everywhere that evening. He listened.
The series of illustrations for SportsYear were stylistically like nothing he’d done before. There were no traditional figures, but plenty of brilliant colors. He mixed oils: crimsons, violets. It came out swirls of circles and half-circles and impressions of hands meeting arms meeting ovals against a sea of boiling waves, sun-streaked winds. Dimly defined shapes of two androgynous bodies, naked, face to face in water, mirroring each other’s outstretched arms. He stayed in Michigan after everyone else had left, putting on the final touches. Flew back to New York with a week and a half’s worth of beard scruffing his face, delivered the job in person and then went home, stripped totally, crawled into bed with a brain-searing headache and slept twenty hours. Woke up answering a call from the art director at SportsYear. Those illustrations, they weren’t quite what he’d had in mind, he knew that damned well. Rick told him to go take it up the ass. He drank some water and went back to sleep. Woke, cleaned, shaved, stalked naked around his apartment dabbling at the drafting table, dabbling in sketch books, gessoing some canvas. When the originals came back from SportsYear by messenger he mounted and framed them, had them delivered to her with a note enclosed asking would she please be his friend.
“What about the laundry?” She was running tap water over the blender’s plastic cone-top, glancing at the clock.
“I’ll pick it up tomorrow.” Four thirty a.m. Time to get back to bed.
Now he stood in the bedroom doorway and watched her. She’d rinsed out the glass, changed clothes, thrown three tank suits and a towel into her bag, tossed in a tube of skin cream and a neat stack of heavy-bound books and her gloves, her pens, her change purse, her Master lock. She slipped on a jacket. Bag slung over her shoulder. One hand for the viola, one free for hailing cabs, for fishing bills and change and slips of paper with addresses on them out of the portable whirlwind of things she carried. She approached to kiss goodbye, stopped because there was an odd look in his eyes. He wanted to tell her he’d heard her on the phone the night before. Heard her talking with people, conniving here, convincing there, calling up the clubs with pools, rounding up lane time for herself for the next morning and the next and more. He wanted to tell her he’d known then that she’d leave early this morning. Wanted to tell her that it was all right and that he was afraid.
The kiss turned into a hug. She hugged him close a second time, then was out the door.
Published by: Untreed Reads
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