Review: Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Title: Florence Adler Swims Forever

Author: Rachel Beanland

Published: 3rd February 2021, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Rachel Beanland draws on her family history in Florence Adler Swims Forever, a tender, character-driven debut novel.

On a sunny morning in the summer of 1934, as Esther and Joseph Adler stroll along the Atlantic City Boardwalk and their granddaughter Gussie, and houseguest Anna wade in the shallows, their daughter, Florence dons her bright red bathing cap and heads into the ocean. A champion swimmer, twenty-year-old Florence is training to swim the English Channel in just a few weeks, so no one expects that an hour later, her lifeless body will be dragged from the water.

Florence Adler Swims Forever unfolds from multiple perspectives exploring the decisions made, and the changes wrought, in the wake of Florence’s untimely death. Esther and Joseph are devastated by the loss of their youngest daughter, but Esther in particular is worried about how the news will affect their oldest, and makes the decision that she not be told. Fannie, Gussie’s mother, is in hospital on bed rest waiting the birth of her third child, her second having been born too prematurely to survive, and is growing increasingly annoyed that her sister hasn’t visited. Freed from the daily care of his wife and daughter, and taking advantage of his distracted in-laws, Fannie’s husband Isaac grows more distant, chasing a foolish dream. Seven year old Gussie, sweet and precocious, has an innocent’s clear-eyed view of the changes in her world, but is bewildered by its nuances. Anna, a young German Jewish woman whom Joseph has sponsored to study in America on the strength of a long ago association with her mother, is somewhat uncomfortable to find herself in the midst of this family tragedy, especially when her own threatens. Stuart Williams is the outlier- a Gentile, a handsome lifeguard, swim coach, and reluctant heir to a Boardwalk hotelier. He thought himself in love with Florence, and in the aftermath of her death strikes up a friendship with Anna.

The novel examines several themes, including those of grief, love and family, but most significantly, the sacrifices parents will make to protect their children. Esther forgoes some of the traditional rituals of mourning of the Jewish faith, and attempts to represses her own devastating sense of loss to safeguard the health of her remaining daughter, as does Joseph. Joseph also willingly compromises his financial resources to protect Fannie from her husband’s weakness. Fannie meanwhile spends three months confined to her hospital bed in the hope that the child she carries will be born healthy. Anna’s parents, concerned by the political climate in Germany as Hitler ascends to power, insist she travel to America, and pull whatever strings they can to see her safely out of the country. Issac, in complete contrast, selfishly abandons Gussie in pursuit of his own dreams, and betrays the support offered by his own father. Stuart’s relationship with his father is a little more nuanced, though the man definitely has his faults, he does care about his son’s future.

Beanland grounds her story well in time and place, with vivid descriptions of the beach and boardwalk of Atlantic City, and the Adler’s baking empire. Fannie is obsessed with the Dionne quintuplets born earlier that year and battling for survival, in part because her late son, Hyram, spent some time in an incubator on display at the Boardwalk, just as they did. The author also touches on the anti-semitism rife not just in Europe as the Nazi party began to gain a foothold, but also in America.

With a measured pace, Florence Adler Swims Forever is a meditative, poignant, and engaging read, suited to a languid summer afternoon. Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the end of the book.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I Amazon

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  2. Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies
    Mar 01, 2021 @ 02:19:23

    Lovely review. You capture so much of what I loved about this book!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Deb Nance at Readerbuzz
    Mar 01, 2021 @ 03:08:48

    It sounds like an interesting book, but it’s probably not a book I can bear to read right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  4. Susan Coventry
    Mar 01, 2021 @ 03:14:16

    I’ve wanted to read this book and now I really have to.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  5. sjhigbee
    Mar 01, 2021 @ 03:47:13

    What a beautiful review about a clearly nuanced and well-written book, Shelleyrae. I loved reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  6. Laurie C
    Mar 03, 2021 @ 01:03:25

    I DNF’d this one on audio. When I started it, I was expecting something along the lines of Elinor Oliphant, I think, and when Florence died right at the beginning, the shock of it kind of did me in. Then I couldn’t warm up to the other characters — except Gussie, of course!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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