cover image The Union of Synchronized Swimmers

The Union of Synchronized Swimmers

Cristina Sandu. Scribe US, $15 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-950354-39-9

Sandu’s vivid if undercooked collection, her stateside debut, offers six snapshots of women around the world as they struggle against long odds. Each story’s title consists of just the protagonist’s name and location. “Sandra, the Pyrenees” follows a woman hitchhiking to Paris who gets picked up by a sullen and slightly menacing driver. In “Lidia, the Near Side of the River,” Lidia falls in with a group of bird lovers who are led by a weird guy she calls the Bird Breeder. “Anita, in Helsinki” involves a bumpy affair with an insecure superhero known as Blue Flame. The stories are linked by a series of fragmented, lyrical depictions of six people who meet covertly to swim, in the process exhausting themselves and sharing a feeling of disorientation. While these passages can feel unfinished, the descriptions of swimming make an apt metaphor for the lives of the women in the titled stories. Indeed, Sandu’s direct prose has impact—“With no apparent sense of direction, they didn’t seem to be heading anywhere in particular”—as she describes her heroines’ scrambles to stay afloat. It’s great on a line level, but the whole doesn’t feel fully realized. (Aug.)