Release Date: July 7, 2020
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: Florence Adler Swims Forever is a historical fiction novel set to be published by Simon & Schuster and released on Tuesday, July 7th, 2020. This novel is author Rachel Beanland’s debut. The tagline reads, “Over the course of one summer that begins with a shocking tragedy, three generations of the Adler family grapple with heartbreak, romance, and the weight of family secrets.”
PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: It’s the summer of 1934 in Atlantic City, and Florence Adler is home from college for the summer to practice for her upcoming swim across the English Channel. Her “home” is a cramped apartment near the beach, where her parents Esther & Joseph reside each summer so they can rent out their actual beach home for seasonal visitors. Joseph owns his own booming bakery business, which has allowed him to bring a young lady from Germany named Anna – the daughter of an old friend – to stay with them when it’s a particularly dangerous time for Jewish people in Europe. Florence’s niece Gussie is also sharing the apartment for the summer while her mom, Florence’s sister Fannie, is on bedrest in a local hospital for the last few months of her pregnancy.
This full house is shocked and upended when an unexpected tragedy occurs, when Florence doesn’t return after going out for a routine morning swim. Suddenly Esther and Joseph find themselves in charge of following centuries-old Jewish traditions and working through the grief of their loss, while also devising an elaborate plan to hide Florence’s sudden death from Fannie (and the community at large). Their remaining daughter already lost one baby the previous summer and is dangerously close to premature childbirth again. The juxtaposition of following strict religious tradition while breaking modern grieving etiquette affects everyone in different ways, both positive and negative…from Florence’s friends, to Fannie’s daughter and husband, to outsider Anna.
In Florence’s story, we see how unexpected tragedy and sudden loss can work to both tear apart and strengthen relationships within families.”
While we see the family and friends of Florence work through her loss and the ensuing madness of pointedly “forgetting” it happened, we also learn the history of each character. This includes multiple firsthand accounts of growing up in the Jewish tradition, but in radically different socioeconomic circumstances and geographical regions…and the way these differences have affected the family members and how they interact with each other today. Some relationships strengthen, and a new romance blossoms…but other unions become fraught with the strain of loss, and we as readers must finish the book to see if they’ll survive the circumstances.
MY THOUGHTS: This novel was definitely an enjoyable read for me, even though it’s not my favorite/most comfortable genre (mystery/thriller), and it sucked me in after I got about 33% of the way through. If you enjoy both a summer read AND a historical novel, this would be an excellent choice for summer 2020.
The novel is written from the points-of-view of each of the main characters (minus Florence, unsurprisingly), and the book cycles naturally through these characters as the storyline progresses – with each chapter telling the unfolding events from the viewpoint of the character most affected at that moment in time. We see Esther’s grief and determination, Joseph’s sadness and stoicism, Gussie’s curiosity and childlike bluntness, and Fannie’s confusion and loneliness, to name just a few. We also learn their unique histories, which gives us a good background with which to judge their current actions and decisions.
In Florence’s story, we see how unexpected tragedy and sudden loss can work to both tear apart and strengthen relationships within families. The slight fractures that already exist within relationships – which can go largely ignored during times of happiness or contentment – can seemingly become as wide and irreparable as the Grand Canyon in the face of loss. Similarly, friendships and relationships can spring up when two people rely on each other for comfort, closeness, and a certain consolation that only they can provide as witnesses to this same grief.
Because of the multiple points of view, we can see poignant instances of grief and loss, particularly with Florence’s mother, Esther. There is a passage toward the beginning of the book when Esther is crushed with the realization that she will be telling people she’s lost a daughter for the rest of her life. [Please note: the publisher expressly forbids direct quotes from ARCs (advanced reader copies), which is what I used to read this novel…so I cannot use any direct quotes in my review.] Fannie also struggles with what seems like postpartum depression from her loss of son Hyram the year before, combined with her fears for her current situation…and the spectre of her future knowledge of her sister’s sudden death hangs over our heads as readers as we wait for that shoe to drop.
This novel raises some very interesting questions about what we would do for the people we love, and whether or not the decisions that Fannie’s family made were done in her best interest. Is it better to tell elaborate and months-long lies that involve weaving an incredibly intricate and dangerous web of deception, if you’re trying to protect a family member in a delicate situation? Or is this a betrayal that could never be forgiven?
My only wish for this novel is that it were longer; I would desperately like a more concrete conclusion to this story, where we as readers would know what the future holds for everyone and how the truth affects Fannie and her family’s closeness moving forward.