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Swim Back to Me

3.26  ·  Rating Details ·  1,914 Ratings  ·  352 Reviews
Ann Packer is one of our most talented observers of family life, with its hidden crevasses and unforeseeable perils. In these unforgettable, emotionally searing stories, she explores the moral predicaments that define our lives, the frailty of ordinary grace, and the ways in which we are shattered and remade by loss.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2011)
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Aug 17, 2016 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Swim Back To Me is an amazingly assured book of short stories, bookmarked by two novellas, which deftly explores the fragility of family relationships. In many instances, it took my breath away with its perception and insights.

The entire first half of the book is dominated by one story – Walk For Mankind, set on the Stanford campus during the Watergate era. Richard is a somewhat gawky coming-of-age boy, who is shifted between his aloof history father and his do-gooder mother. In contrast to this
Jun 05, 2011 Allyson rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a fast read, about the best I can say for it. She did a nice job creating her characters but they were basically losers. Their lives were sad, but in the hands of a writer like Annie Proulx, Alice Munro, or even Maile Meloy, losers like these are lifted out of that stereotype and become real people, or at least people I am glad to read about. Sad stories, sad lives, but somehow still worthwhile reading.
Packer's characters were completely forgettable and lackluster. I did not care about
I could probably give a quick synopsis of Ann Packer's latest offering SWIM BACK TO ME in five words...."it's about pain and loss". The pain involved is both physical and emotional and the loss is about every conceivable type of loss that leaves a gaping void in ones life from the loss of one's childhood, to the loss of a friend, a child, a spouse, a life-style, an unfulfilled dream....well you get the idea.

While the author's writing style initially pulls you into each of the six stories it doe
Andy Miller
Nov 25, 2012 Andy Miller rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of the best collection of short stories I have read in a long time, Ann Packer is a great writer. You get to know the characters and you're in suspense as to what happens in their lives. I found myself disagreeing about the conclusion of one story, JUMP, I thought the story was harsh in the summary of Alejandro's dad, a doctor who woke up in the middle of the night to drive Alejandro's friend to his office to give a test and then prescribe an antibiotic(the fact he did it isn't outweighed by ...more
May 08, 2011 Lisa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I should state upfront that I'm not a fan of short stories, so I have a bias. I picked this up because I loved The Dive From Clausen's Pier and figured I'd give this a chance. It reminded me of why I don't like short stories. I get into them and then they end abruptly and many times in a way that leaves me confused. I'm always left wanting more, or in this case, frankly, wishing I hadn't read the story in the first place, because the collection is sad and depressing. The overall theme is of loss ...more
Jul 29, 2011 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm still waiting for another novel from Packer, so in the meanwhile I was curious to see what she's been working on. Here we have an author much interested in the complexities of human relationships and clearly skilled in capturing the nuances in words. The first and last stories in the collection feature the same character, Sasha, and reading the second of the two was like attending a forty year class reunion and being just a bit surprised at the turns the life of someone you thought you knew ...more
Jun 08, 2015 Ashley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book on a friend's side table in a lake camp in Vermont. I was the 1st one up and it was a chilly morning in June. I had hot coffee and a small, thin blanket, so I settled into the corner of the sofa to read the 1st story-really a novella. Halfway through the book the rest of the household arose and I reluctantly tucked the dust jacket flap into my saved place. I couldn't wait to read on-each story is immediately immersive. The characters are ordinary, so much like most people I kno ...more
Jun 02, 2011 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A strong collection of short stories from Ann Packer. (And yes, it is a collection of short stories, so please don't give it one star because you mistakenly thought it was a novel). Most of these stories deal with loss. The worst is over and now the characters have to figure out a way to keep on stumbling through life.

I found Molten, the story of a woman mourning the death of her teen-age son to be gut-wrenching, but not treacly in the least. "Her Firstborn," told by a soon-to-be father whose wi
Jun 29, 2011 Joanne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Really liked The Dive From Clausen's Pier; didn't care for this one at all. It's a bildungsroman of an "honor roll kid" Stanford professor's son who befriends a neighbor girl and her family. Neighbor girl starts sleeping with an older man, honor roll kid starts smoking pot, and I stopped reading because it was one third of the book and nothing was happening except the kids following each other around and smoking. Yawn.
Bonnie Brody
Feb 28, 2012 Bonnie Brody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ann Packer's newest book, Swim Back to Me, is comprised of a novella and five short stories. They are all "emotionally searing stories" dealing with issues of intimacy, misunderstandings that cause distancing, betrayals, and the problems that people have with understanding and knowing one another. Each story is strong and brilliant.

`Walk for Mankind', the novella in this collection, just sings. It is a coming of age story but to just describe it as that would be like saying it's a beautiful day
Dec 03, 2011 Jan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Recently, after I lamented the fact that I'm having a hard time finding fiction books that aren't 400+ pages long, a friend recommended that I try a book of short stories. I've never been a big fan of short stories, for reasons that I find difficult to articulate. I think it's that a short story always feels incomplete to me - like I'm only getting a part of the story, not the whole story - and that irks me. But I thought, what the heck, I haven't tried to read a book of short stories in a long ...more
May 03, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
All of the stories in this collection are great, but I absolutely loved the first story in this collection, Walk for Mankind. The craft, the structure, the beautiful writing, the funny, realistic dialogue, the marvelous similes, and most of all the characters and their stories were so very engaging to me. I read it straight through in one sitting--all 95 pages. I was very impressed with Ann's ability to create a credible 13-year-old boy voice in first person. I found myself caring about Richard ...more
Julie Ekkers
Jun 28, 2011 Julie Ekkers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I so enjoyed this collection! The opening story is actually a novella. I thought it and all of the stories were uniformly strong. My favorite in the collection were the last two, in particular, the penultimate story, in which the reader is introduced to a new father-to-be, whose wife had a child with her first husband, who died at five months from crib death. The transformative effect of his own child's birth of his understanding of his wife's loss is so, so well done and moved me to tears. I al ...more
Nov 06, 2011 Lormac rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a book of stories...well, it starts with a novella, but then becomes a series of short stories which have nothing to do with each other ... well, except that the last story is supposed to be about some of the characters in the first story 35 years later.... well, except that these characters behave nothing like they did 35 years earlier. So what is the point of having the same characters in the first and last stories? Who knows. I hardly even cared.

At some points, Packer gets a character
Aug 29, 2014 Maureen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
I liked these stories a lot. There was more substance, somehow, than I usually find with short stories. All of the stories deal with loss. The first is a story of two thirteen year-olds and how they cling and also hurt each other as they lose their innocence/ignorance. Packer captured the intensity of that phase of life. Even though in some ways it is a terrible time, I am surprised how memorable some of the experiences of that time are for me, even more than my experiences as a parent, which we ...more
Sue Pelman
Oct 24, 2011 Sue Pelman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved, loved, loved it! The characters are so real, the relationships understandably complicated, the situations plausible and diverse. It reminds me of Olive Kitteridge, partly because it's a collection of stories, but mostly because both authors are gifted at describing life experiences in succinct vividness that instantly lets the reader in. I want to know more about each one of the characters and where their lives have gone -- are going. I also want to keep tabs of Ann Packer, and will start ...more
May 09, 2011 Kristy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh Anne Packer.
You have such idealistic beginnings, then you go and eff it up with uninspired endings, or worse, women with no spines. Ah well, your generation is different. It is a dying one though, so beware. First story was going so well. Story about woman staying in a marriage because life on the outside was just as painful, well you lost me baby. It might have been in the first two paragraphs come to think of it because you used the word "bedclothes". I think you mean pajamas. No need for a
Jan 14, 2015 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fine, interesting collection of stories that resonated with what I'd term "ordinary folks'" existential angst. The opening novella has an interesting turn, and each story felt unexpected and finely-tuned to me.

As a short story writer, these are the sorts of works I like to read: Stories that interrogate the everyday in a new, yet accessible, way.

Rose Horton

Although many of the stories were sad, they were also thought provoking and intriguing, much like life itself. A good read.
Feb 15, 2011 Christy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I truly enjoyed this book. And even with 2 small children, I managed to read it in only 2 days!! It consists of two novellas framed by other short stories that are definitely well worth the read.
Apr 22, 2012 Sheila rated it really liked it
Six novellas each of which has stayed with me and made me reflect. Families, coming of age, loss and unexpected behaviors all make for compelling reading.
Jul 16, 2015 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Group of short stories, all good.
Rebekah Sprecher
Oct 06, 2016 Rebekah Sprecher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Satisfying group of stories

Some good stories here, with rich characters and plots woven through family relationships and friendships. Very satisfying to read and I highly recommend this book.
Lynne Griffin
Oct 10, 2016 Lynne Griffin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
The novella in this collection is very good.And two of the short stories, Molten and Her First Born will knock you out. So compelling!
Apr 03, 2013 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
About the best I can say for most of this collection is "meh." The experience was similar to watching your typical summer comedy in a movie theater: you enjoy the show, it made you happy for a few moments, and your forget about it a couple hours later. I really liked parts of "Walk for Mankind" as I think Ms. Packer really nailed the adolescent boy chasing a girl he wants but doesn't know to get sort of trope, but I also didn't quite get the characters' motivations at times. Sure, Sasha rebellin ...more
Lori Weir
Mar 16, 2012 Lori Weir rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are just some many things I love of this collection of stories. To list a few:

- They are all "emotionally searing stories" dealing with issues of intimacy, misunderstandings that cause distancing, betrayals, and the problems that people have with understanding and knowing one another. Each story is strong and brilliant in its own way.

- Packer is meticulous in observation and scrupulous in sympathy. She is tough and realistic. Her characters are complex but fully understood. She allows raw,
Dec 06, 2013 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Swim Back to Me is a collection of stories; some I liked and some not so much. The ones I liked outweighed the ones I didn’t, so I bumped my rating to a 4…reluctantly.

Walk for Mankind is a coming of age story that just screams 1970. Richard and Sasha are teenagers, experimenting in drugs and intimacy, marred by feelings of betrayal and jealousy. Following the progression of their friendship and connection is what makes this novella brilliant and relatable for anyone from that generation (which I
May 12, 2011 Shuriu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm shocked that in the final story, "Things Said or Done," Sasha doesn't remember Richard AT ALL, when she was his first love and he remembered her always. It's lovely to read about the characters again through different lenses -- time and perspective. Richard's perspective in "Walk for Mankind" and Sasha's in "Things."

The course of true progress is boring. You don't just suddenly become an outdoorsman, just as you don't just suddenly become assertive and independent, ridding yourself forever o
Apr 13, 2015 Betsy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Dive from Clausen's Pier turned me into an Ann Packer fan. But I'm not usually a reader of short stories. Yet this collection of stories captures emotion, a point in time, and relationships - but mostly emotions - like a snapshot that freezes the emotion, in all its "alive-ness," right there on the page. The first and last stories are about the same family - but told from different perspectives, and 20-30 years apart in time. They perfectly bookend the collection through the recognition that ...more
Oct 26, 2012 Dave rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read The Dive From Clausen's Pier almost exactly 10 years ago and thought quite highly of it. A long-term relationship is heading toward an end and then a freak accident spurs more abrupt change from the protagonist who heads to NYC and lands a literary job. The plot itself was not especially inventive, but the writing and characterization were very good and I definitely recommend the novel.

Swim Back To Me, however, did not meet the standard of Packer's earlier work. The first story, Walk for
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Ann Packer is the acclaimed author of two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me and Mendocino and Other Stories, and three bestselling novels, The Children's Crusade, Songs Without Words, and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, which received the Kate Chopin Literary Award, among many other prizes and honors. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and in the O. Henry Prize Stories anth ...more
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