The Swimmers by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1929
The magic trick:
Keeping the reader guessing through the story’s transitions
Summer’s here! Time to swim!
This story covers a large span of time – years even. Predictably then, big things happen. Relationships drastically change. Our protagonist’s life shifts continents, his marriage crumbles. What is unpredictable, though, is the way the reader receives these changes. We never see the changes happen. We only see the aftermaths. The story demands that the reader fly blind for a few paragraphs and pick up the pieces quickly. It’s a surprising and suspenseful way to tell the story (even if the narrative’s conclusion is the farthest possible thing from a surprise). And that’s quite a trick on Fitzgerald’s part.
“This is the man who didn’t know whether he could swim, because he’d never tried.”
Henry got up from his sun chair, grinning. It was next morning, and the saved girl had just appeared on the beach with her brother. She smiled back at Henry, brightly casual, appreciative rather than grateful.
“At the very least, I owe it to you to teach you how,” she said.
“I’d like it. I decided that in the water yesterday, just before I went down the tenth time.”
“You can trust me. I’ll never again eat chocolate ice cream before going in.”
As she went on into the water, Choupette asked: “How long do you think we’ll stay here? After all, this life wearies one.”