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Friday, February 19, 2010

Swimming Inside the Sun - David Zweig

A couple of months ago, Doreen from Second Guess Media contacted me about reviewing the book Swimming Inside the Sun. Here's the synopsis from the back of the book:

On the verge of success, struggling New York City musician Daniel Green has his life’s dream snatched from him. Despondent, Dan seeks solace and answers from the comforts of women, great thinkers from Marx to Kierkegaard, and the security of rice milk. Suffering from a darkly comical state of extreme self-consciousness, Dan begins to lose his grip on reality, and in a meta-fictional twist, the narrative shifts from first to third-person as his depersonalization peaks. All the while, the signs of his existential dilemma become, literally, the writing on the wall, as his studio apartment is increasingly taken over by The Notes he can’t seem to stop writing. Battling loneliness and a mind that can no longer discern between fiction and real life, Dan’s only hope may be the redemptive force of music. In a culture obsessed with tales of winners’ ascensions to the top, Dan Green’s story, defiantly, irreverently, is about what happens when you fail and the roads you take to figure out what next?

Actually, Doreen asked if my husband and I could both read and give our thoughts on it. I have to say that this book is such a wonderful book for discussion, especially with mixed genders. We both read the book and went to our neighborhood restaurant for caprianas and margaritas to discuss. What follows is a rough synopsis.

First of all, did you like Dan Green as a character?


I didn't like him. His character is so extreme. For instance, while walking on the streets of New York, he sees different beautiful women and in his head, calls them "wifey" (I was mistaken, he calls them "wife"). Then they walk on and he is sad but knows there's another "wife" just around the corner. That whole thing bugged me. It is like he wanted a wife but didn't want to work to get one. Then, as a guitarist, he has an album that is produced but then shelved so he gets depressed and never picks his guitar back up. That annoyed me too. It seemed so unrealistic. I thought with that type pessimistic character flaw, the guy probably would have never learned how to play the guitar in the first place. And then he stops working all together. He was very self absorbed and egotistical, but then again I don't think he was written to be likeable.


I did not like him overall but I knew who he was and from where he comes. He had a little bit of that "Every Guy" characteristic. Every guy at some point has dealt with or asked himself the same things Dan deals with and it was interesting to watch the him process and bounce along. He is not an unbelievable character by any stretch which made the story stronger.

How did you like the style of writing?


I did really love the way the book was written. You are really inside the character's head and it is engaging. The realistic dialect and the vivid depiction of New York City really kept me absorbed in the story despite the annoyance of the whines and gripes of the main character.


I think the rambling narrative reflects how we talk and think. Dan Green may be an unreliable narrator because it might not be a 100% factual narration of the events but then again who does not embellish for the sake of the story? Because every event and action was being narrated, you could really get involved with that particular part of the novel. So, yes, I did like the style in the way it was used to build the character.

How did you like the New York City setting?


We both thought it was very stereotypical of a New York City story. Though the idea of a proud but depressed artist living in the East Village is a bit cliched. The only way it could be more cliched was if it was about a sad hipster in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But the story was told as a typical New Yorker would tell, from an introspective viewpoint and a lot of name dropping (people, places, streets, etc). As a whole the setting seemed too staged, but to a New Yorker it is plausible: financial safety net and rent controlled studio apartment. In that situation someone can take time off from the working realities. We could see maybe doing this a month or two but not for as long as he did. It would be slightly more realistic if he was living further out in Brooklyn or Queens.

What did you think about the depiction of the New York City art scene?


I thought his character was just too lucky that it became a bit unrealistic. From the various artists I've met here, it takes a lot of hard work with often not a lot of results. He literally just walked into favorable situations and he never really worked for any of it.


In it's perverse way, the book does reflect what I consider to be the NYC Art Scene. Specifically what is considered "art" and the varying forms of accepted mediums. Without giving too much of the story away, Dan's reaction to the praise is very entertaining however a mild let down for the role the post-it notes on his wall played. Music, as an art form, was dialed into NYC because you will always find an audience for anything different, interesting, progressive, etc, in this city.

Overall, how did you like the book? What were the best and worst aspects?


Best: I really like the writing style. It was engaging and vividly depicted New York City. I liked when I knew the bars, streets, and places he went to. While a lot of Dan Green's character was egocentric and unlikeable, there were aspects I did relate to regarding his personal struggle and I dog eared a bunch of sections. I think regardless of whether or not you like the book, it definitely provokes a strong reaction.

Worst: The length of the book is about 450 pages which I thought was way too long. While I liked the writing style, being stuck in an egotistical and often whiny head got to be too much. For example, I didn't need to know, for the fifth time, his obsession with alternative milk products or what he's thinking about in his apartment while he's waiting to have a bowel movement. I think the book would work better if it was shorter but then, like Dan Green, maybe David Zweig wasn't willing to compromise his art.


Best: Overall, I think the best part of the book is the writing itself. Just because I did not like the main character does not mean the book is a bad read. The author created a real person who is tangible, and as a reader I could follow. He also wove a story with a realistic and plausible origin and ending. My expectations going into reading this were slightly misdirected based on the back cover; I was waiting for the great big answer to fall out the sky. Answers are rarely that easy to find and I think David Zweig does a great job getting that "fact of life" across, we never know where we will end up.

Worst: In five words: abrigded edition.

Thank you Doreen for letting us read and review Swimming Inside the Sun! We had a great time discussing the book in our own little husband and wife book club.

**For my readers, what do you all think about this book and our discussion?

**Do you and your significant other share books or discuss books? If so what?


  1. I think it's awesome that you two did this. My husband and I rarely read the same books, but we do tell each other about what we're reading. Well, most of the time it's me telling him, since he doesn't read nearly as much as I do.

  2. A great idea to provide guy and girl viewpoints in the one review.
    Thanks guys!


    Publish or Perish

  3. Cool! Love the review format. Now if I could only figure out how to get Chuck to read and review something with me.


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