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Aquamarine

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3.59  ·  Rating details ·  815 ratings  ·  94 reviews
Olympic swimmer Jesse Austin is seduced and consequently edged out for a gold medal by her Australian rival. From there, Anshaw intricately traces three possible paths for Jesse, spinning exhilarating variations on the themes of lost love and parallel lives unlived. Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina, writes, "I found myself wishing I could buy a dozen ...more
Paperback, 197 pages
Published November 14th 1997 by Mariner Books (first published February 13th 1992)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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Julie Ehlers
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
I initially gave this book three stars, but upon further reflection I'm bumping it up to four. This novel gives us a brief snapshot of Jesse, a teenage Olympic swimmer, and then goes on the show three vastly different portrayals of her life, based on what might've happened if she'd made one decision or another once her swimming career was over. We've seen this idea in other books and movies, but this book, published in 1992, may have actually been first.

I loved many things about this book. The
...more
Jess
Oct 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who is stuck
I read this book before I moved to Portland, before my life really started. In my sheltered, plastic world, this novel stood out for its authenticity, its daring. I picked it up for very superficial reasons: I liked the cover, I'd been a competitive swimmer, and aquamarine is my birthstone. I nudged my paradigm ever so slightly. I realized that the path I was on was the not the only path I could take. In fact, looking back the reading of this novel may have been a watershed moment. I took the ...more
Elaine Burnes
May 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
When I finished Carry the One, I was curious about Anshaw. I looked up this book, figuring I might read it some day. Well, the plus side of clearing out the basement is that I found a box full of lesfic I thought I'd given away, including this! (Though in retrospect, this is not lesfic.) The narrator tells three possible versions of her life after competing in the Mexico City Olympics as a swimmer. There, she has an encounter with a gorgeous swimmer from Australia. I don't quite see how these ...more
Michael Armijo
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
Michael Cunningham (who wrote the fabulous book THE HOURS) recommended this book. I can see how he liked the stance of a woman who is a champion swimmer and takes a dive into three different scenarios of how her life could have been. I suppose it's up to the reader to decide which is the TRUE story (if one wants to go that route). Alas, the book didn't flow as well as I would have liked. There were some memorable lines though:
"I don't want you to think I'm after your secrets. I'm not. I'm just
...more
Lissa
In 1968, Jesse Austin took the silver medal for the hundred-meter freestyle in Mexico City. After the Olympics, Jesse has to make some quick and tough decisions that will shape her life in numerous ways. The author depicts three of these potential lives: giving up swimming completely and staying home, becoming a literature professor and a mostly-out lesbian in New York City, and being a single mother to two children in Florida.

It was interesting to see that, no matter how different the lives,
...more
David Jay
Apr 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The book opens with Jesse competing as a swimmer for the US at the 1968 Olympics where she takes the silver medal. From there, the book veers off in three different directions. The book jumps to 1990, finding Jesse nearing 40 and contemplating her life from three dramatically different vantage points. Following the Olympics, she makes various decisions and Anshaw tracks how different her life would have been if she had made some choices as opposed to others. For example, one story line has her ...more
treehugger
Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lesbian-lgbt-lit
This book so deserves 5 stars! It was a super-fast read, because you just couldn't get enough of the story - you just HAD to know what kind of life she would live next, what kind of compromises she would make in the major decisions that make up a lifetime until she finally admitted her own truth to herself..

It's a story about an Olympic swimmer and the many paths (fleshed out) that her life could have taken after the fateful day in the Olympic pool when she competed for the gold medal..

I can't
...more
Hubert
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: fiction, lgbtq
Very sensitively written novel centered around Jesse Austin, whose second place finish in Olympic swimming decades ago (lost against a friend) manages to haunt her very existence to current day. The novel is structured so that we witness three possible "continuations" of her life 20 years afterwards; one as a lesbian academic living in NY, one as a divorcee living in Florida, and another as still living in her hometown in Missouri. The veritable likeable godmother character shows up in various ...more
Grey
Apr 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I wouldn't call it timeless, but I would call it marvelous.

I did a little Reader's Advisory work for my friend A-, a very finicky fiction reader. In reading about this book, I was enamored with the premise: Three possible futures are woven for a woman who narrowly missed winning a swimming gold medal in the 1968 Summer Olympics. The tales -- as a small-town wife, a cosmopolitan lesbian returning home, and a single parent of troubled teenagers -- are wonderfully consistent and richly original on
...more
Christopher Swann
Oct 07, 2012 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Cool exercise in exploring three possible lives in the aftermath of one person's shot at glory. Anshaw writes well and tellingly. I took a class with her in grad school and she was generous, honest, and refreshing--hard to be both candid and supportive at the same time when you read and critique someone's creative writing, but she managed to do it.
Lily Mason
Nov 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I can't believe I wasn't familiar with Carol Anshaw until now. What a talent she is! She writes very realistic, beautifully crafted stories about characters so real they could live next door. This book was a special experience for me because the multiple reality premise was similar to a book I wrote a few years ago, only this was much more concise. I'll definitely be reading more by this author.
Toby
Apr 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Like a giant Ready Whip can. Delicious.
Gabrielle de Cuir
Mar 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Gorgeous book. The writing just flowed seamlessly between dialogue and narrative.
David Fronczak
Mar 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
One of my favorites to reread on occasion- three very different, separate stories/paths that the central characters life could have taken... a quick read, and a story that stays with you.
Elna Holst
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A quite wonderful piece of literary fiction at its finest. Aquamarine starts in the ”supersaturated moments” of October 1968 in Mexico City, when Jesse Austin is on the point of diving into the Olympic waters for the 100 metres swim, head to head with her arch-rival, the seventeen-year-old Australian Marty Finch. From this pivotal point, on the cusp of adulthood, the narrative diverges into three (or four, or more) what-ifs, deceptively similar yet wildly different versions of Jesse's life at ...more
rosamund
Jul 28, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
Jesse wins second place in 1968 Olympics for freestyle 100-metres swimming: Carol Anshaw then gives us three possible futures for Jesse, depending on choices she made directly following her swimming triumph. Each is believable, though the happiest, where Jesse is dating women and living in New York, feels the least grounded in reality. Perhaps this book hasn't aged well, or perhaps it simply isn't for me, but I found the premise trite -- because of course different choices we make define our ...more
Sophy H
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
A well written story with believable lives, loves and losses.
The story of Jesse is quite cleverly executed, an Olympic hopeful in swimming whose life doesn't quite go as planned after the Mexico Olympics in the 60's.
Alternative options for Jesse's subsequent life are laid out before us; each an interesting option with its associated life troubles, much in the way the film Sliding Doors offers 2 possible outcomes of one situation.
Carol Anshaw is talented at making the everyday quite wonderful,
...more
Claire McNeill
Mar 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
A little artless and disjointed at times, but I really liked Jesse, and a lot of the writing was great. The triptych of Jesse’s various lives felt a little choose-your-own-adventure-y, and yet its obsession with the unlived life worked. Would recommend to washed-up athletes and nostalgics. (Also lol at someone else’s review: “You don’t have to be gay to enjoy this book!”)
Laura
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reread this quickly astonished & delighted by its unfaded brilliance! A perfect & profound novel(s), a Rashomon for our moment, a wonderful reminder that the possibilities are always and still branching out ahead of us & leading us back to our tender beginnings...
Sarah Rigg
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtq
I read this in college and really loved it. I like the way Anshaw handles the protagonist's three diverging timelines.
Cornelia
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
I struggled to see the point of this book. Someone's mediocre life was explored in three versions, and it never got anywhere. It wasn't badly written, just incredibly disappointing.
Rebekah
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book, but it was really weird and continually made me uneasy.
Jane
Jul 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
It was a mistake to read Anshaw novels back-to-back, because her tricks show too clearly and leave me oddly depressed; and it is a pity that Aquamarine was the second book I read, because I think it delivers better on the promise of its premise than Carry the One, which I read first.

We meet Jesse Austin at the 1968 Olympics, a 17-year-old who will be haunted forever by the race at which she takes a medal but, more to the point, by her relationship with a competitor at that race. The next time we
...more
Kate
Nov 16, 2013 rated it liked it
The ‘Sliding Doors’ concept is not particularly new yet it takes a certain skill to pull off convincing alternative stories for the same set of characters. Carol Anshaw does it beautifully in Aquamarine, a story that begins with Olympic swimmer Jesse Austin, seduced and consequently edged out for a gold medal by her Australian rival, Marty.

“It won’t take a scaling down of expectation to accept this defeat, but rather a substantial reconstruction of her notion of herself. And she must accomplish
...more
Dar
Although I try not to bring home too many discarded books from the library, this was among the few I let in. It is the author's first, it received rave reviews and won several awards, and the author has gone on to write three more critically acclaimed novels. The first thing I noticed about it is that it captured the way people acted, spoke and thought in 1990 perfectly. That was almost 25 years ago, and all of us have a very different sensibility now. The book took place during the pre-Internet ...more
Her Royal Orangeness
Jesse Austin is a swimmer who takes the silver medal at the Olympics. The first place gold goes to her rival, Marty, with whom Jesse has had a brief fling. What will Jesse do with what she perceives as failure, and how will she cope when Marty ends their burgeoning relationship without an explanation? Carol Anshaw delves into these questions, and explores three possible paths that Jesse’s life may have taken.

It is quite marvelous how Anshaw created Jesse’s alternative pathways through life. She
...more
Pamela
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Notes from 1998. This is a synopsis, so yes, spoilers.

(view spoiler)
...more
Kelley Brown
Jul 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
I love the idea of looking a 3 different ways Jesse's life could have gone. I came away feeling the bittersweet joy and sadness of all the lives of my own that I've missed by putting my focus on what I thought I should feel/be/know/do.

"She should pry herself away from here, light out for the territory, wherever that might be. Sometimes, particularly on windless days like this one, she thinks she might truly die with longing for something to get her out of here, something to at least point her
...more
Erika Nerdypants
How do you measure trauma? There is no scale, no formula to predict how certain events affect any one person. What we do know, is that under the right circumstances, something that might seem minor to one person, can have a profound and lasting effect on someone else. This is what happens to Jessie, who at barely 18 experiences the defining moment of her life. In each of the next three chapters we meet Jessie again now 39, in parallel lives. In each life she makes very different choices, but all ...more
Mistinguette Smith
May 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Aquamarine is an ambitious literary take on a common daydream : What would my life life be like if I had...

By giving the reader three life narratives of a single character, an Olympic swimmer whose passion for a competitor cost her the gold medal, Anshaw raises a provocative query about how our perceptions of a single event can shape every aspect of the rest of our lives. At the root of each story are the same questions: What does it means to decide that we come in second, instead of first?
...more
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500 Great Books B...: Aquamarine - Carol Anshaw 1 9 Jul 12, 2014 08:59PM  

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Carol Anshaw is an American novelist and short story writer. Her books include Carry the One, Lucky in the Corner, Seven Moves and Aquamarine. Her stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories in 1994, 1998, and 2012. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts (1992). She has won a National Book Critics Circle Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, an NEA Grant, an ...more
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