The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison reminds me of so many things, John Cheever’s The Swimmer and the movie with Burt Lancaster; my daughter who spent one summer swimming back and forth in Colgate Lake in Copake, NY; my dog who loved to swim he Delaware River instead of being in the canoe with me during my three to five day sojourns on that river in my youth. I’m not a swimmer anymore, but I can stay in the ocean, river, or lake for hours healing. Thad is such a young swimmer. His family tree is complicated and he apparently retreated to the only refuge he had, the local river, for solace and to get away from all the madness around him. Thad lives up on the UP near Ludington on Lake Michigan and to escape the wrath of a father whose daughter fancies Thad and spends time with Thad at his camp on an island in a river that feeds the big Lake, he decides tom swim to Chicago. During his trip he spends the night with some fisherman and one reflects, “I fished ninety days in a row. Not a dime for a shrink. I am like the kid here. It’s water that heals a man!” Oh I so concur. I have to be near water myself. The main reason I’m here is Assateague and the ocean, which is my playground and refuge. He meets a young lady, Emily, with whom he has sex and meets later in Chicago, where his dad will give him a job. Upon arriving in Chicago he rests on the cement pier of the Meigs Field Airport and is taken to a rooming house of the sister of the cop who has come to tell him he can’t be on this cement pier. I love the implausibility of all of this already.
Back home, Thad is tending to family and the garden with his new friends, Emily and her dad. Laurie’s dad is still the problem. His favorite book was The Rivers of the World. He read it and reread it and dreamed of swimming in as many as he could. If swimming gave him life, of course, it could take life, too. Thad knew this and experienced all of this as he swam and swam and swam. It was his nature.