There is a little book of fiction that has been published three times in the last 35 years that, chances are, you’ve never heard of, by an author whom, unless you are an aficionado of slightly off-kilter novels, you also probably don’t know (even though he wrote one of the biggest bestsellers of the 1980s).
First serialized in Redbook in 1975, Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle was published in an oddly shaped paperback the same year and was the edition I read, pictured above. It is an extremely powerful novel of a young couple, living deep in the wintry New England countryside, about to bring their first child into the world. It is devastating and beautiful, overwhelming yet poignant, and a lesson – today more than ever – in how very out of touch with our elemental selves we can be in “the world” as it is.
To say any more would begin to give away too much. A slim 90-page novella powerful enough to be reissued time and again over 4 decades is perhaps unprecedented unless your name is Conrad or Chopin or Fitzgerald. It’s very possible that not only did you miss this the first time round, you also might not even have been around at all. Which is as much of a hint as you are going to get from me. Certain books should not be spoiled.
It is timeless; it is heart-wrenching; it could have been written in the past two weeks, instead of decades ago. I’d like to think that maybe in another ten or twenty years, another press will come along and think it’s time for Swimmer in the Secret Sea to see the light of day again. There is an irony there, but it is a sweet, moving one. It is part of the cycle of who we are and what we do.
Read it. And pass it on.