Swim Back to Me
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Swim Back to Me

3.25 of 5 stars 3.25  ·  rating details  ·  1,456 ratings  ·  301 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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Jill
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...more
Allyson
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...more
Andy Miller
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
Lisa
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
Sandie
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...more
Eileen Granfors
I loved Ann Packer's new anthology, "Swim Back to Me." I would have loved it more as a novel. Although there are connections between the stories, especially the first and the last, I enjoy the greater depth of the novel form and getting to know all of the characters deeply.

That said, each story in the anthology holds its own, with memorable characters and solid conflict. Most of the stories are set in the Bay Area of California. Packer opens with 8th graders, Sasha and Richard, children of acade...more
Joanne
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
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...more
Jane
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
Jan
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
Jennifer March
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
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
Kathy
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...more
Lormac
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...more
Kristy
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...more
Christy
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.
Sheila
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.
Rose Horton


Although many of the stories were sad, they were also thought provoking and intriguing, much like life itself. A good read.
Dave
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...more
Brian
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
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,...more
Karen
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...more
Shuriu
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...more
Michelle
Lovely collection of short stories. When done right, I just love this type of book. Packer’s writing is fantastic. One of my favorite descriptions: she’s “like a black note of pepper in a rich chocolate dessert.” Also, in another story, she describes the second marriage of two divorcees and makes the comment that a person cannot get out of one broken car step into another and expect it to run perfectly. Brilliant!

The stories in this are ordinary but beautiful and true. There are a few I desperat...more
cat
2011 Book 54/100

This was a beautifully written collection of short stories that draw their strength from the many ways that families fall apart and come back together again. Loss, grief, separation are all primary themes, and the characters are so well drawn that you ride those thematic roller coasters right along with them. Several of the book's stories dealt with the loss of a child. As Kirkus Reviews wrote about one of them, "“Her Firstborn,” is the tender story of a young father-to-be haunt...more
Laura
Author Ann Packer recently gave a talk locally and afterwards I bought a signed copy of her book, so it was at the top of my stack of books by my bed. Turns out short stories are the perfect bedtime reading, in terms of moving through a book in tiny bites. Packer's stories all concern ordinary people dealing with life turning points like coming-of-age and fractured marriages, and, often, loss in their lives. The stories are smart and knowing, like talking to a really good friend. My favorite, I...more
Carol
I stuck with this book to the end. Guess I'm a glutton for punishment. Considering it was a collection of short stories, I could've quit at anytime. But noooo, I kept at it thinking the next story will be better. There were a couple of stories that I might rate 2 stars, but even that is being generous. I've never read Packer's novel Dive from Claussen's Pier. Now I don't know that I ever will.
Jodi
Mar 29, 2012 Jodi rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Not sure
Shelves: short-stories
Ehhhhh! Not my favorite and I'll admit that I scanned a few of the stories in this book because I just couldn't get into them. I don't normally pick up collections of short stories but I saw the author's name and remembered "The Dive from Clausen's Pier" which I really liked. Towards the end of the book, I found a few stories I liked such as "Dwell Time." I wonder though by the ending if the wife is going to stay with her husband and fear him disappearing again or if she is going to "stick" with...more
Katie
I am not a fan of short stories so I don't know why I thought I could enjoy this one! I kept waiting for the stories connect but it always let me down. I am now sitting here unsatisfied due to the lack of any sort of closure or information as to what happens to these characters.
Jeannine
I'm sometimes puzzled how these sorts of collections are organized. This one begins with a novella, followed by a few short stories and closing with a continuation of the novella. Just weird.

**spoiler ahead**

That said, I really liked the short story Molten, which tells the story of a mother dealing with the death of her son by listening to his hard core music collection when her daughter and husband are not home. The son was killed saving a child from an oncoming train. The way the mother deals...more
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Ann Packer is an American novelist and short story writer, perhaps best known for her critically acclaimed first novel The Dive From Clausen's Pier. She is the recipient of a James Michener Award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Packer is the daughter of Stanford University law professor Herbert L. Packer and Nancy Packer, a writer and former professor of English and creative writ...more
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The Dive From Clausen's Pier Songs Without Words Mendocino: And Other Stories The Children's Crusade: A Novel Ploughshares Fall 1993 : The Passage of Time

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