Florence Adler Swims Forever was the perfect read for my Labor Day weekend! I went into the book not really knowing much about it and I ended up absolutely loving it. I was shocked with a major event happening so early on in the book, but quickly realized that the book wasn’t about that at all….it was about so much more.
Over the course of one summer that begins with a shocking tragedy, three generations of the Adler family grapple with heartbreak, romance, and the weight of family secrets.
Every summer, Esther and Joseph Adler rent their house out to vacationers escaping to “America’s Playground” and move into the small apartment above their bakery. This is the apartment where they raised their two daughters, Fannie and Florence. Now Florence has returned from college, determined to spend the summer training to swim the English Channel, and Fannie, pregnant again after recently losing a baby, is on bedrest for the duration of her pregnancy. After Joseph insists they take in a mysterious young woman whom he recently helped emigrate from Nazi Germany, the apartment is bursting at the seams.
When tragedy strikes, Esther makes the shocking decision to hide the truth—at least until Fannie’s baby is born—and pulls the family into an elaborate web of secret-keeping and lies, bringing long-buried tensions to the surface that reveal how quickly the act of protecting those we love can turn into betrayal after tragedy.
I loved how this book explored the aftermath of tragedy within a family unit and the different ways people express grief and cope with loss. The alternating points of view provided unfettered access into each character’s life after Florence. We witness her mother Esther’s quick reaction and decision that winds up affecting the entire family and even some friends. Joseph, Florence’s father, sort of rolls into himself and questions the choice his wife made to keep Florence’s death a secret. Florence’s sister, Fannie, is in a fragile state with a dangerous pregnancy and is the only character kept entirely in the dark because the family does not want to jeopardize Fannie’s health or the life of her unborn child. Gussie was probably my favorite character because she displayed such poise and strength for a seven-year-old. The burden put on her shoulders requiring her to lie to her own mother was heartbreaking. Lastly, we encounter Anna, a refugee from Germany who is staying with the Adlers, but also hides a secret. I really enjoyed reading her journey as she grows from uncertain refugee into a confident woman.
Every character is not only hiding the truth about Florence, but also secrets of their own. The deception at play from character to character creates a tangled mess of lies and family drama. As each secret is slowly revealed I began wondering whether the Adlers would survive entact. Already in a vulnerable state, I wasn’t sure how much more strain the family could take. This book shows that a family can endure insufferable tragedies and emerge stronger than ever. That was the most beautiful thing about this book.
I initially thought that Florence’s death so early on would make it hard to relate to the family’s grief, but that was quickly dispelled. As soon as the decision to lie to Fannie was made, I was drawn in and completely invested in the story. I wasn’t sure how long the secret could be kept and at times found it far-fetched that so many people knew about Florence’s death and still Fannie didn’t know. However, I had to remind myself that the story is set in the 1930s and the main forms of communication were newspaper and gossip.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone that loves poignant literary fiction with a wide range of emotions and family drama.
Thanks to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Follow my blog by subscribing below.