Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller: Slowly Revealing the Truth of a Marriage

Swimming Lessons, Claire FullerFiction
Released February 7, 2017
356 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Tin House Books)


Though Swimming Lessons didn’t immediately grab me, its steady revelations about the Coleman marriage and increasing complexity eventually pulled me in.

Plot Summary

Swimming Lessons tells the story of the volatile marriage between famous author Gil Coleman and Ingrid…through letters Ingrid hid in Gil’s books prior to her disappearance and their daughters’ returns home to care for their ailing father.

Why I Read It

Claire Fuller’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, was one of my Best Debuts of 2015.

Major Themes

Marriage, family dysfunction, the writer’s life, motherhood, maintaining your identity through motherhood

What I Liked

  • The publisher’s blurb makes Swimming Lessons sound like it will be a mystery, but it’s actually an exploration of a troubled marriage. The “mystery” part of the story is somewhat ancillary and, once I wrapped my head around that, I enjoyed the book much more.
  • Swimming Lessons tackles a topic that is taboo even today and was even more frowned upon in the 70’s when Gil and Ingrid’s story began: not wanting and/or loving motherhood with every cell of your being and the conflicting feelings that come along with that.
  • I truly sunk into the second half of this book. As more layers of the Coleman’s marriage were peeled back, the story’s complexity grew, intriguing me more and more.
  • While not particularly surprising, the ending made sense and fit with the characters in the story, a type of ending that is becoming more and more appealing to me. And, it struck a perfect balance between tidying things up and leaving some questions unresolved / open to interpretation.
  • The potential discussion topics of marriage and motherhood and various interpretations of the ending make Swimming Lessons a compelling choice for book clubs.

What I Didn’t Like

  • Swimming Lessons did not immediately grab me. It’s a book that slowly peels back the layers of a marriage and it took lots of those layers being revealed for me to really get invested in the story.
  • Some of the revelations (yes, they are more revelations than twists) were not surprising, but their inevitability fit with the story.
  • One element of this story has been told before and I kind of rolled my eyes that this particular trope was popping up yet again.
  • I didn’t love Swimming Lessons quite as much as Our Endless Numbered Days…the writing sparkled a tad less and the plot was a touch more predictable.

A Defining Quote

I tried to tell you that I didn’t want it, wasn’t ready, might never be ready, but you put your finger on my lips and said, “Marry me’, and all those plans of creating my own category and giving you up after the summer disappeared like a wisp of sea mist under the relentless energy of your sun.

Good for People Who Like…

Dysfunctional families, marriage, dislikable characters, motherhood, secrets / betrayal, fathers and daughters, character-driven stories, gradual revelations of characters’ backgrounds

Other Books You May Like

Other books that untangle the truth behind a marriage:
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (review)

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (review)

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  1. I’ve seen this book but didn’t really pay attention to it nor know what it was about. It actually looks appealing to me from your review; I had no idea what it was about from the title and cover.

    Posted 2.9.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      The title refers to the house where the Colemans lived…it was an old swimming pavilion that was part of a larger estate at one time. And Ingrid sort of uses swimming in the ocean as therapy.

      Posted 2.10.17 Reply
  2. I saw this book at the library but from the title and book cover I was like meh. Now upon reading your review i will have to go back and get it.

    Posted 2.9.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      The title and cover really don’t tell you much about the story! But it is a worthwhile read…especially if you like “behind the facade of a marriage” types of stories.

      Posted 2.10.17 Reply
  3. I can forgive a slow start more than a slow ending so I’d give this book a try.

    Posted 2.9.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      It’s funny…I’m sometimes the opposite! If I enjoy a book most of the through, but the ending is a letdown, I’m generally OK b/c I enjoyed the reading.

      A Gentleman in Moscow is a good example…I thought most of the book was a slog, but the ending was just perfection. But, I couldn’t forgive the hours of slogging I had to put in to get there.

      Posted 2.10.17 Reply
  4. Great review! The ending bothered me, but now reading your thoughts on it, I can see that to end any other way would have been too neat and tidy. The story was really messy throughout, so I guess it’s really best that it ended as it did.

    Which book should we both review next week!?! 😉

    Posted 2.9.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Haha! We are on the same schedule, aren’t we?! I think next we’ll be off. Unless you’re planning on reviewing We Were the Lucky Ones next week 🙂

      Posted 2.10.17 Reply
  5. Tara wrote:

    I love hearing your perspective on this one, Sarah; it definitely reminds me how we each bring our own individual experiences to each story we read. It’s also a really sad tale; I wanted to rescue her, many times, but, in the end, I guess she finally found her way out.

    Posted 2.9.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      So true, right?! I had a similar situation with Allison at The Book Wheel and Commonwealth. She wasn’t a fan and I was even though we generally have similar tastes. But, I’m a child of divorce and really identified with that part of the story.

      And she did find her way out…one way or another 🙂

      Posted 2.10.17 Reply
      • It’s true, it’s true….. I didn’t like that book and personal experiences can really influence how much you like a book!

        Posted 2.12.17 Reply
  6. Great review! I’m very intrigued by this book. I still need to read Our Endless Numbered Days, though.

    Posted 2.9.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I’d maybe read Endless first 🙂

      Posted 2.10.17 Reply
  7. Naomi wrote:

    I agree with most of your points, but didn’t find it as slow to get going as you did. I also wasn’t expecting a big mystery, so the fact that it was more revelatory was fine with me all along.
    I was especially interested in the motherhood theme, and agree with your thoughts on the ending!
    With two very different books under her belt now, I’m curious to see what she writes next!

    Posted 2.9.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I didn’t think it was slow going per se…I just wasn’t quite as invested in the story until we got farther into it.

      I know – she’s definitely not pigeon-holing herself! Kudos to her for that.

      Posted 2.10.17 Reply
  8. Lisa wrote:

    I only read what you liked–in waiting for this to arrive. Love your reviews!

    Posted 2.11.17 Reply
  9. Alicia wrote:

    I read this as an early release from BOTM, I was super excited because it was supposed to be phenomenal. I did like it, but it didn’t top my hopes for it.
    What category would you put this in?

    Posted 2.14.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I agree – liked but didn’t blow me away. I did, however, like how BOTM included an early release…wish they’d do that every month!

      By category, what do you mean? Genre? If so, I’d categorize it as literary fiction. Getting more specific…dark stories about marriage?

      Posted 2.17.17 Reply
      • Alicia wrote:

        Yes, genre lol
        I am beginning to categorize my reading and I struggle with that.
        Thanks for your reply!

        Posted 2.17.17 Reply
  10. I’ve been vacillating between excitement and indifference between this one, not sure if this is really a book that would work for me. Your review has convinced me I definitely need to give this one a shot regardless. 🙂

    Posted 2.14.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Good, I’m glad! I think you’ll have more luck if you ignore the parts of the blurbs that say it’s a mystery…it’s more the story of a marriage.

      Posted 2.17.17 Reply

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