Swimming Toward the Ocean
Swimming Toward the Ocean
Anchor Books, Paperback, 9780385721769, 400pp.
Publication Date: February 26, 2002
Chenia Arnow is a Russian-Jewish immigrant in 1950s New York, a sharp-witted, Betty Grable look-alike whose accent and Old-World superstitions mask untapped passions and intellectual curiosity. Her husband Ruben is a handsome philanderer who has a knack for creating phony lawsuits. Their precocious daughter Devorah, tells–and often imagines–the richly involving story of their lives.
No one expects the devoted Chenia to fall under the spell of a lover of her own, but the Arnows' lives unfold in many surprises. In tart and seductive storytelling, Swimming Toward the Ocean follows husbands and wives and children through often shifting and misguided connections, illuminating the timeless patterns of immigrant life, and the search for love and a place in a new world.
In high school, she took a creative writing class--not a happy experience. Her teacher shamed her for writing about a teenage boy and girl who differed over how sexually intimate they wished to be. From then on, Carole was mostly a closet writer. Between high school and college, she worked as a salad girl in the Catskill Mountains. That summer, she wrote a story about a woman and her still-born child, which, uncharacteristically, she read to her three roommates. They cried. This was heady reinforcement for a fifteen-year-old writer-to-be.
At the City College of New York, Carole studied Latin and French, minoring in English literature. She enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English literature at Hunter College. Realizing she was too shy ever to teach, she dropped out. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked in politics and government and lost her shyness. For the past ten years, she has taught creative writing classes at the University of Washington, mostly to adults.
Her first book, "Useful Gifts," which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, is about a family with deaf parents and hearing children. While the stories are not autobiographical, Carole drew onher own background as a CODA (child of deaf adults). American Sign Language was practically her first language. Although her two books are set in New York City, she has written fiction that is set in other places (e.g., Michigan, because she was writer-in-residence at Interlochen Arts Academy; Seattle, where she currently resides). She has written a one-act play, "The Challenge," that has been performed by hundreds of senior citizen groups in the U.S. and Canada.
The recipient of a Literary Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she was a Fellow at Bread Loaf, MacDowell Colony and Virginia Arts Center. Since residing in the Northwest, she has won some local grants and the Washington State Governor's Arts Award.
Carole is a night writer, beginning around midnight and working till around 4 a.m. She rises around noon and goes to her local Starbucks in Seattle (actually the second store established) to edit what she wrote the night before. One day, sipping coffee, she had an image of a woman going up to the roof in an apartment building. Suddenly she knew why the woman was going up to the roof. Though she writes on a computer, on this day, she wrote long-hand, surprised to see a story tumble out that begins with a fetus in her mother's womb. This became the opening of "Swimming Toward the Ocean,"
Writing is an act of discovery, Carole says. She writes out of the subconscious, without consciously controlling her characters or their actions. One of the joys of writing for her is finding out WHAT HAPPENS. Nevertheless, she is a relentless reviser. Once the draft is written, she pores over every word, paring and polishing. Mostly I re-write," she says.
KirkusReviews calls "Swimming Toward the Ocean," published in hardcover by Knopf in 2001, "luminous with clear-sighted compassion for its imperfect characters, alive to life's bitter disappointments and transcendent possibilities; very exciting fiction indeed."
"Achieves such a fine balance of humor, pathos, and atmosphere that one is tempted to call it a masterpiece of its kind." —Elle
“The story-telling is engaging, full of the quotidian joys and sorrows of a winning and indomitable woman.” — The Washington Post Book World
“The Arnow family is utterly irresistible. É Their resilience É becomes a testament to the profound recuperative power of the human spirit. Swimming Toward the Ocean navigates important family territory with precision and warmth.” — Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Very exciting fiction indeed . . . Luminous with clear-sighted compassion for its imperfect characters” --Kirkus Reviews