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3.62  ·  Rating details ·  910 ratings  ·  107 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 copi ...more
Paperback, 197 pages
Published November 14th 1997 by Mariner Books (first published February 13th 1992)
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Average rating 3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  910 ratings  ·  107 reviews

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Oct 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 re ...more
Sep 24, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pub-1992
I never know what the point of these ‘Sliding Doors’ kind of novels is. That where our lives go is based so much on chance? Ok, thanks, Sherlock. That there are some constants in our life that even the whims of fate cannot change?

Authors have different approaches to the subject. Some seem to strongly believe in fate, and have the same things (or a version of that thing) happen to the characters, no matter how hard they stray away from their path. Other authors believe only in pure chaos. But in
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 c
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 th ...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
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
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 m ...more
Misha Ali
Oct 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I originally gave this four stars but upgraded to five after some musing.

Going into this, I was unsure that I would get the point of yet another sliding doors style story where a person makes a small choice differently and we see the impact it has on their life. While it's true that this is essentially the story of an Olympic athlete competing in the biggest swim race of her life and then fast forwarding to three completely different versions of her life twenty years later, each version pulled m
Lisa Pool
Jun 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Haven’t we all wondered what our lives would be like if we had married a different person, or moved to a new city, or took a different career path? The writer covers this theme with gorgeous writing following 3 different possibilities for our heroine.
Apr 25, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Carol Anshaw's writing is a treat. This book describes the three different possible lives of one woman, from one "sliding door moment" in her teens, one second-place finish in a race that affects the rest of her life, her choices and relationships with family, friends and spouses. Anshaw creates characters that are specific and real, gives us a vision into their world and pushes them beyond their comfort level, and she does this with so much humor and ease, we're carried along effortlessly. ...more
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, ho
Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 s
This is a depressing piece of literary fiction about a woman who is a former Olympic swimmer. She had a one-night stand with her chief competitor the night before their Olympic race, which haunts her for the rest of her life: was the relationship between them something real? or was her competitor just trying to get under her skin, smooth off her competitive edge the night before the Olympics? was that the reason she got silver, while her lover got gold - and, perhaps, did she lose to her on purp ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 g ...more
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
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. ...more
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. ...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!”)
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.
Mar 04, 2022 rated it liked it
Being an avid swimmer myself, I wanted to love this book, so promising with its graceful and simple cover, and I'm glad I did. What we get is 3 versions of how a silver medallist at the Mexico Olympics coped with that relatively disappointing result and her life afterwards. In version 1, Jesse returns to her Missouri hometown, marries a nice guy, struggles to get pregnant, and when she finally does, unaccountably develops a crush on a younger man, maybe the way some other pregnant women crave st ...more
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 th ...more
Rosamund Taylor
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 liv ...more
Alisa Aronson
Sep 07, 2022 rated it it was ok
an enjoyable but also frustrating read. The novel introduces the main character and the defining incident in her young life, then shows us 3 possible paths she might have taken from there. Each path is pretty run-of-the-mill but enlivened by the author’s great ear for dialogue. I was just starting to get pulled in to each story when it ended and the next one started. Thus, I have the same problem with this novel as I do with short stories- I want to go further and deeper with the characters, not ...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,
Dec 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Jessie is 17 when she wins a medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Jumping ahead to 1990, Anshaw imagines three possible futures for Jessie as she approaches her 40th birthday. This was a fun book to read with several characters making brief or extended appearances in all three stories.

I don't remember where I stumbled across this book but the bookmark left by a previous reader put a smile on my face: a ticket stub from the 1994 Michigan-Michigan State football game.
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...
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
the ableists/racists remarks weren't really necessary and the book being from the 90s isn't an excuse. other than that, the writing was quite enchanting and the stories told were interesting enough, but i wish they were a little more developed. ...more
Aug 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Truly a 4.5. A really interesting telling of the different ways that a single life could’ve played out. Might be worth re-reading, & it would definitely benefit from a reading in one-two sittings. I’ll ponder this one for some time to come.
Dec 21, 2021 rated it liked it
This is a book I probably read 20 years too late. The main idea, exploring 3 versions of a single person’s life has been played out in multiple movies and other books. The story grew on me, and I think the author is a talented writer. It just came a bit late for me and thus the 3 star rating
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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 Illinoi ...more

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