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Swimmer in the Secret Sea

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,257 ratings  ·  229 reviews
First published in Redbook in 1975 to enormous acclaim, this O. Henry Award winner sold 100,000 copies in paperback. Available for the first time in hardcover, Swimmer in the Secret Sea is the poignant story of how a man and a woman endured the shock and anguish of their newborn baby's death. ...more
Hardcover, 91 pages
Published August 1st 1994 by Chronicle Books (CA) (first published 1975)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,257 ratings  ·  229 reviews

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Feb 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Adults
This book took me by surprise. I was given this book as a gift when my son was a very sickly infant. I didn't bother to read it until three years later. I expected it to be perhaps a self-help book of some sort, something involving ways of coping with sick children.

Instead I found a deep, lonely novella, so well-written I had to read it in one night. The story of a couple who goes through a grieving process after delivering a stillborn baby is effectively woven in with the elements of life and
Claire Fuller
I'm going to read this again in a minute and see if it's not 5 stars, because at the moment it's 4.5. The first book that made me cry for a while, proper tears. There is one chapter in it, only a page or so long after the narrator's baby has died where he travels with him on boats and trains and they fly over the landscape and the little boy grows up. Even just writing that makes something crack open inside me. ...more
Sarah Schantz
Jul 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As a writer who has also lost a child, although my daughter was 26 when she died and not stillborn, this story feels like it was made from my own grief. The prose is stunning, lyrical yet precise, the small sections mimic the way contractions come and fade and then return. It's also a strong study of landscape and how setting is always action in good storytelling. As someone who has also chosen to live in the woods rather than in town, who does care for her dead rather than letting strangers do ...more
Cecilia Alfaro
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ay 💔
Uma história triste mas imensamente bela...

P. 25- "All he knew were the waves that took them out again, where they were alone in love and sadness that none else could share, alone and clinging to each other in the reality they had long prepared for, for which no preparation was ever enough."

P. 31- "He suddently remembered the baby, the little swimmer in the secret sea. He's struggling too, struggling to be with us, struggling just like we are.
Laski's heart became an ocean of love, as nine months
May 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
this little gem of a book seemed to me very different than his other work.
It is as lucid and elegant as a fable, and I found it moved me deeply
Nov 27, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
1.5 stars

Reading all the reviews my opinion probably won’t be a popular one. I found it to be an extremely sad story that nonetheless didn’t evoke any emotion. The writing is way too flowery to my taste, it draws the attention away from the story, the characters and their emotions. If it weren’t such a short story I’m sure I would not have finished it. Instead I started scanning the pages.
And there were quite a few things that really annoyed me. (view spoiler)
John Ginn
Sep 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is easily one of the most finely crafted pieces of writing I've ever read. Kotzwinkle's prose is so elegant and spare. So many writers think slinging words around is what they are supposed to: look at all the verbal fireworks, wheee!
Kotzwinkle writes clear, concise sentences - deceptively simple, but they add up gradually to devastating effect.
At one time, I used to buy every copy of this book I could find (it was out of print at the time) and give them away to friends I considered wor
Dec 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
Really more of a long short story than a novella, and not a great one at that.
Heartbreaking and beautiful.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I began to read to have a pause from the nasty, dirty sex, tales of opportunist people in a collection of short stories written by Charles Bukowski.

Not even a third of the book and I was already crying (no shame), overtly crying in a mix of sadness and melancholy and joy. And giving thanks for my life and the lives of people I love. For the mistery of life. You have to be somebody with a message to write something like this in so few words. Maybe I read it just in the right moment. Now I know w
May 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: novel
The "swimmer" in the title is a fetus. I read this book right after I had an ectopic pregnancy, thinking that a little Kotzwinkle would cheer me up. Instead, he tore my heart out. ...more
Jun 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
This is a beautiful book about life and death. Heartbreakingly sad yet it is a bleak but beautifiul story. The writing is beautigul and very poetic.
tortoise dreams
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pregnancy, a birth, and the stillness after.

Book Review: Swimmer in the Secret Sea is difficult for me to capture. Maybe the saddest book I've ever read. It makes concrete the crushing nature of broken hopes and thwarted dreams, but paints an unbearable reality. As well-written as it is, I'm unsure why anyone would want to read this. I was reminded of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). Both that and Swimmer in the Secret Sea are books written in a tight, controlled manner when
C.B. Wentworth
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This sparsely worded story is a stunning exploration of grief. Laski and Diane head to the hospital for the birth of their child, only to leave with the body of their stillborn child. The grief that follows is carefully explored with depth and a strong sense of reality. Phases of shock, sadness, strength, emptiness, love and hope ebb and flow. It comes in fits both devastating and tender, as grief newly felt rarely exists on one level. Imagery of a cold and barren winter beautifully exposes the ...more
Fay Barrett
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was ok
The prose was really spare and pared back which I usually love, but in this instance it was maybe a bit too much as although the story was sad, it didn't provoke an emotional response from me. Also more of a long short story than a novella so didnt have time to connect to the characters so really sink into the feeling of the book. ...more
Joanne Golphin
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read Swimmer In The Secret Sea many years ago and still I'm moved when I think about it. Heartbreaking and brilliantly written. I was in tears long before I finished reading. Highly recommend.
Joanne, Perth, Western Australia
Apr 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Swimmer in the Secreat Sea is a very sad story, so be prepared for a short and intense journey on grief and loss. It reminded me of Kenzaburo Oe's A Personal Matter, wich is very similar, but in my opinion, much deeper. ...more
Laura (booksnob)
Dec 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature, novella, 2017
A beautiful story about a father and the loss of his newborn baby. Poignant.
Patricia Monger
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a small gem. Like another of the reviewers, I also read it in a single sitting, unwilling to break the spell of his poetic and empathetic writing.
Giam Pierr
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sep 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Exquisite. Precision, passion, poise.
Oct 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful, to the highest level. Poetry in prose.
Lisa Blakslee
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So sad, but something to try to understand.
Nancy H
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
What an unbearably sad novel! Unfortunately it is a novel that needed to be written, because there are so many families that have had this situation occur. It is written with sincere feeling and depth of emotion, and is obviously very heartfelt. It will help readers understand the loss of a baby in this way.
Godine Publisher & Black Sparrow Press
"This is a little book with the largest of themes: birth and death. William Kotzwinkle, a writer with an original bent for wildly funny imagery, gives the reader nothing to laugh about here. Instead, he follows the struggle of an infant to be born-from the first womb contraction through a breech delivery. To tell precisely what happens to Diane, the mother, Johnny, the father, and to their infant son would be like paraphrasing a poem. Suffice it to say that Kotzwinkle projects powerful feelings ...more
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The world is full of stories, sometimes ... our hearts, preconfigured to think that everything works as Disney taught us, makes us think that every ending needs to be happy, that every family is perfect, that there comes a time when everything magically solved and lived happily ever after.

Reality teaches us the opposite ... and these stories also deserve to be told; yes, they are more difficult to address. And are a challenge for the author and the reader; sometimes one as reader do not want thi
Feb 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I haven't been affected by a book this much since I read Wave. I couldn't stop crying during certain sections. I am still in awe of how a man describes labor so well, without having gone through it. For me, labor felt just like he described it, the sea of pain. "The wave came again and carried them out onto the sea of pain, where he wondered again why life ever came into the world...The tide that drew them out into the troubled waters once again spent itself, and they floated slowly back, restin ...more
Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a decent read...very quick, not much depth, but that's to be expected from such a short novella. My only issue is that the story seems to just end...there's no real conclusion, which I guess is natural for something like this. I mean, how do you bring to conclusion a couple burying their own son, shortly after his birth. Overall, a worthy read, and I did enjoy the main character's thoughts; however, even for a novella, I think it leaves a little to be desired.

Upon further consideration,
Jun 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novellas
This book is a haunting story filled with such sorrow and beauty. It is simplistic in delivery, but filled with such emotion that leaves the reader breathless. It is not filled with sentimentality or triteness in any way.

"Then the ocean of sorrow took her and she was crying wildly, like a seawind that drives the water into terrible waves. And through the storm the little pine box floated calmly, with its strange passenger, the infant who was also an old man."

It does not hold back on the uglines
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William Kotzwinkle is a two-time recipient of the National Magazine Award for Fiction, a winner of the World Fantasy Award, the Prix Litteraire des Bouquinistes des Quais de Paris, the PETA Award for Children's Books, and a Book Critics Circle award nominee. His work has been translated into dozens of languages. ...more

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102 likes · 34 comments
“The wave came again and carried them out onto the sea of pain, where he wondered again why life ever came into the world...The tide that drew them out into the troubled waters once again spent itself, and they floated slowly back, resting for a minute or so, only to be dragged out again. He held her up while she contracted and pushed inside herself, trying to open the petals of her flowering body...He lifted her, trying to free the load she was struggling with, but she was straining against the traces, getting nowhere, her eyes like those of a draft horse...Who would choose this, thought Laski, this work, this woe? Life enslaves us, makes us want children, gives us a thousand illusions about love, and all so that it can go forward.” 1 likes
“Hardly had they rested when the waves carried them out again, like a nightmare that repeats itself over and over through the night, and over and over again through the years. Back and forth they went and he feared that her strength could not hold. He had no confidence, not in himself, nor in her. He felt like a helpless child, and Diane seemed helpless too, their long struggle getting them nowhere, only repeating itself--contraction, release, contraction again.” 1 likes
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