Friday, May 22, 2009

Marianne Apostolides’ Swim: a novel

Toronto writer Marianne Apostolides’ Swim: a novel (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2009) is a lovely movement of the lyric through water, through the framing of swimming in a public pool, working from the point of view of Kat, her daughter Melina, and even Achilles, back and forth, a frame from each that overlaps, scene after individual scene.
Melina’s finger stops. She contemplates the phrase.

Kat is gazing at the mountainside. The landscape, when viewed from below, is a canvas of browns, muted and various. From her position in the pool, Kat can’t detect the caves or streams that flow toward the waterfalls; she can’t see the wildflowers, either, with their spray of colour. These mountains seem inert, though she knows this is untrue, if only because of a story her father told her once, years ago.

The symbolism of the rose depends on its thorns.

This village is called Loutra or ‘Baths,’ an appropriate name, given its most distinctive characteristic: the pools of water that gather beneath six small waterfalls whose progression forms the perimeter of the village. At the outskirts of Loutra, the mountain’s underground waters breach the rock’s surface; these disparate streams rapidly merge, tumbling together in the first fall. As that water pounds into the rock bed, it forms a natural pool whose boundaries can’t contain the liquid, which ceaselessly overflows, spilling into the next stream that runs toward the next fall, where it tumbles, and so on. The large, man-made pool is filled with water siphoned from these streams. The water is said to be healing, due to its specific, naturally occurring combination of minerals.

“The symbolism of the rose,” Melina whispers.
Divided up in layers, this is less a novel as such than a flow of lyric prose, a beginning and a series of endings that simply open again, a nearly-single scene from multiple points. Apostolides’ novel is one that beautifully wraps itself around language, writing, language theory; that opens itself up as both threads of narrative and threads of narrative thinking, threads of an essay, articulating itself through the self-same pool of water. This is a passionate, longing prose of elemental heartbreak, a physical and pounding prose of the body and heart, with echoes sweeping through of the late Elizabeth Smart’s groundbreaking By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945), with an ending that glows. As Apostolides writes “Attuned to a body in motion…”
Her indifference, then, was swept away – the sheets pulled off, exposing her anger, her energy toward. She wanted, she thinks. She wanted – like the goring of her cunt by his cock – she wanted some confrontation: some grapple within the covered known. She wanted to shout the problem – her betrayal, his depression, her hatred of this, her loss (complete) of belief and trust and faith in him/ her/ them – and love and honour and family/ vows. Her loss of self as she’d defined: a woman/ mother/ wife, not tainted by the lingering smell of want.

She swims.
[Apostolides and I read with Steven Mayoff in Toronto on June 3, 2009]

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