Learning to Swim

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The title story of the collection, “Learning to Swim,” sets the tone of the book. Two individuals, a man and a woman, are tied to each other by habit and need. They search to free themselves using their child as the vehicle. The child evades them both with a simple decision to strike out for himself, a choice as universal as the situation portrayed.

In contrast, the final story, “The Watch,” turns another search for freedom into a fantasy. Here the narrator, doomed to seemingly eternal youth, seems helpless to thwart his destiny until fate intervenes to free him from his self-imposed prison with a breath of new life.

Each story, from the sensitive “Hoffmeier’s Antelope” to the sorrowful “Cliffedge,” begins with the mundane. In most of the stories, there is a narrator, a participant observer, who sets the scene, documents the action, and eventually, achieves insight and enlightenment. Ordinary lives are the building blocks of the stories. Relationships are the cement.

Through sensitivity, ingenuity, and an eye for the details of everyday life, the author transforms ostensibly colorless settings and ordinary people into situations and characters with which one can easily identify. While the endings of some of the stories are somewhat cryptic, most draw to conclusions that are somehow both anticipated yet surprising. For the reader who appreciates the simplicity of fables and parables, this book is a must.