Swimming with Jonah

Audrey Schulman, Author
Audrey Schulman, Author William Morrow & Company $22 (261p) ISBN 978-0-380-97686-7
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-380-80086-5
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A forlorn but richly compelling character is the protagonist of this beautifully controlled second novel. Jane Guy is the anxious, diffident, overweight daughter of a prominent physician and a famously beautiful ballerina who live in the wealthy community of Greenwich, Conn. Her parents' cold, silent disapproval of her mediocre academic achievements deepens as she is rejected from every medical school she applied to. Her shame and depression persist even as they celebrate her ""acceptance"" at a medical school on a remote Indonesian island that takes in any student whose parents can afford the outrageous tuition. When Jane leaves conventional suburbia, she enters another world both physically and mentally; the professors at the rigorous and autocratic school behave like drill sergeants, berating the students mercilessly and expelling them at any hint of mischief or incompetence. In the charged and lonely realms of the anatomy lab, the classroom, and the school's one student bar, Jane tries to survive among an uneasy new circle of friends: sultry, smart-mouthed Marlene; calm and competent Michael; Trent, as irresistible as he is blithely cruel; and stuttering, sensitive Keefer, who keeps a shark named Jonah in an ocean pen. Schulman's assured pacing and the subtle portrayal of Jane's alienation, innocence and growing awareness of her needs bring hypnotic tension to the story. The pressured environment and the heat of the island combine in exotic ways to change Jane's consciousness. As she discovers her powerful sexuality, an unusual kinship with her classmates and her new capacity for self-determination, the narrative moves to a stunning conclusion. Schulman's spare prose drives this suspenseful and moving novel with the enigmatic precision of poetry, fulfilling the promise she demonstrated in her debut, The Cage. (Mar.)
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