The First Rule of Swimming

Courtney Angela Brkic, Author
Courtney Angela Brkic. Little, Brown, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-21738-5
Paperback - 321 pages - 978-0-316-21736-1
Hardcover - 193 pages - 978-0-316-24893-8
Open Ebook - 384 pages - 978-0-316-21737-8
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Two sisters from a remote Croatian island called Rosmarina form a core of family drama in this first novel from Brkic (Stillness). Magdalena, the elder sister and a schoolteacher, leads a Spartan, practically celibate life in her childhood room; while Jadranka is an unpredictable redhead who is starting to feel like "a fish that merely traveled the circumference of its bowl." When the sisters' American cousin Katarina unexpectedly invites Jadranka to live in New York City, several generations' worth of secrets begin to unravel: among them, what happened to the girls' long-presumed-dead Uncle Marin, and the uncertainty of Jadranka's parentage. Brkic handles the logistics of multi-generational intrigue adroitly, and her prose is thoughtful and careful, if overly restrained. The novel is underwhelming, however, as it doesn't begin to wield any emotional heft until the last 100 pages or so, when Jadranka's abrupt disappearance from Katarina's Manhattan apartment prompts her mother and sister to fly to NY to look for her. Brkic juggles too many perspectives and gets bogged down in back-story, when the present-day action and the fraught triangle between the sisters and their estranged mother Ana is what is most absorbing. (May)
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