By Rachel Beanland; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
The summer of 1934 should have been a wonderous summer for the extended Adler family.
It started out typically with Esther and Joseph Adler renting out their Atlantic City house just a block from the beach to summer tourists. They moved into the apartment above the Adler Bakery where they had lived when they first started out.
Their eldest daughter Fannie Feldman was expecting another child. Her daughter, seven-year-old Augusta “Gussie,” was staying with her grandparents.
Their second daughter — confident, charismatic Florence — was home from Wellesley. She was planning to swim the English Channel in July. Eight years earlier, Olympian Trude Ederle had become the first woman to swim the Channel in 14 hours. Florence hoped to do it in 12.
But in life’s perverse and inexplicable way, the Adlers’ summer took a momentous turn.
Fannie’s obstetrician ordered her to go on bed rest at Atlantic City Hospital until the baby came. She had lost a baby the summer before. The doctor didn’t want to take any chances.
Then Florence, out on a solo training swim, drowns. Her parents, her niece and their houseguest Anna are on the beach, but no one knows what happened. Atlantic City Beach Patrol lifeguards, including Stuart Williams, Florence’s good friend and part-time coach, row out to try to rescue her. But it’s too late.
Esther decides that the news should be kept from Fannie until the baby is born. They enlist Stuart’s help in keeping the lifeguards from talking about the drowning. They use their influence to keep Florence’s name out of the newspapers. Esther goes to speak to Nellie McLaughlin, the hospital superintendent, to ask her to keep the nurses from speaking about it where Fannie might hear.
Even Isaac Feldman, Fannie’s ne’er-do-well husband, is reluctantly brought into the plan.
Juxtaposed against Florence’s death and Fannie’s risky pregnancy is Stuart’s relationship with the Adlers. His father owns the prestigious hotel on the boardwalk, The Covington, which bans Jewish guests. Esther has always suspected that his relationship with Florence was partly rebellion against his father. He refused to go to an Ivy League school and earned a living working as a beach lifeguard and coaching swimming. Esther had concerns about his intentions regarding Florence.
Another complication of the summer is the Adlers’ houseguest, Anna, the daughter of a childhood friend of Joseph’s back in Hungary. She’s been sent from Germany by her parents to spend the summer with the Adlers before going to New Jersey State Teachers College.
Her presence is a source of tension for Esther, who had never heard of this friend of her husband’s until his daughter is invited to stay with them. In addition, he’s investing money in a security account to help her parents get out of Germany.
And then there’s wayward Isaac Feldman, whose father-in-law has given him a job at the bakery — a job he hardly does. Isaac has big dreams; they just never turn out right. He invests money in the stock market in the late 1920s — and loses it all. He’s convinced he could get wildly wealthy if he could just get enough investors to buy swamp land in Florida. He takes money from his own impoverished father and hardly visits his hospitalized, pregnant wife.
This is a story full of tragedy — and of people doing the right or courageous or generous thing so that life can go on without becoming locked in the tragedy.
FLORENCE ADLER SWIMS FOREVER is a snapshot of Jewish life in a particular time and place. It’s a warm, wonderful story; a perfect summer read.
The Author: Rachel Beanland
FLORENCE ADLER SWIMS FOREVER is Rachel Beanland’s first published novel. It received a 2020 National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction (Greenberg Prize) as well as being a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a book club pick by Barnes & Noble, an Indie Next pick by the American Booksellers Association and one of the best books of 2020 by USA Today.
Her next novel, THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE, is due out in April 2023.
Her work has also appeared in Lit Hub, Business Insider, Creative Nonfiction and Broad Street, among other places.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina and a master of fine arts in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University.
She lives in Richmond, VA, with her family
Thanks, Dave! It’s an enjoyable book, a pleasant summer read.