“Nightswimming” – first title for Cedar Springs resident: Quiet, deep, touching language.

September 28, 2013

Nightswimming by Janet Turpin Myers.

Reviewed by Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  In Ontario summer activity for those who are able to get away for the weekends falls into one of two clearly defined groups – the campers and the cottagers.

Janet Turpin Myers, a Cedar Springs resident , writes about being a cottage goer in the Muskoka’ s – Penn Lake to be specific, in her first novel, “Nightswimming”.  It is the story of vivid, delicate, life forming, first adolescent love.

Turpin writes of love on several levels; two sisters who loved the same man that they lost to a war, then of two friends loving the same tanned lithe young boy during that period of time when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

Innocence pervades each page. Readers see themselves on those pages as Myers weaves pieces of history into her novel and displays a delightful skill with phrases that work right to the heart of the thought she wants to share.

She captures Saturday morning in downtown Huntsville where the locals and the cottagers jockey for possession of the supermarket and takes readers right into those weenie nights they had then for the kids who swam all day and read Archie comics at night.

Not a word about drugs but a painful view of a mother who lost her husband in Vietnam and could not manage the pain without whatever painkiller she could find, sometime wrapped in a cigarette paper other times in a bottle.

“There is something precious about Canadian summers.  This is because they are slender and stream through cracks in the cold rock of the Canadian Shield like melted gold.”  As we experience the end of this past summer and reflect on that sentence – Myers just about got it right – didn’t she?

Myers has the three prime characters, now teenagers, “erupting out of the peaceable plains of childhood into the rift valleys of adolescence.” Add in twin sisters who seem to be part of the landscape and live in the Muskokas where they “sit on a bench in front of the IGA store, smoke Black Cat cigarettes and criticize Torontonians” with the smug superiority that only locals can have for the interlopers that come up each summer.

And Sheldon, whose body had the shape of a triangle with “a trickle of soft hairs that led downward from his belly button.”  Sandra, the book’s narrator “tried not to stare”  He, with the “pudding eyes of a long lost boy”, who the narrator believes is “dreaming on another girl”.

It is a summer time story by a lake where the dock is the community square; where swimming and early teen dreams as the narrator tells of a  “memory that swims up the spine carried on an undercurrent that slips through Penn Lake, around my heart, through my voice but is silent by singing as I relive Sheldon catching me in his arms.  I let the memory rest there, behind my eyes, which are giving thanks for the darkness that is concealing the secret of what Sheldon and I are doing beneath the water’s surface.”

The books shared light, memory soaked language that serves as a guide through experiences we’ve all had; experiences that call back those summer evenings, with sunsets that belong on postcards.

Pearl, the ‘best friend’ with the troubled mother who, unable to contain the loss of a husband, parades nude in a public place while a child pleads “Mom” and with that one word was saying everything she could. “The mother’s in the crowd understood, you could tell by their faces.  They were hearing Pearl’s heart, it was making the sound that comes when you have no power.”

Myers tells a story that evokes feelings and recalls in us experiences we had forgotten; of the way relationships change, when the “white is separated from the yolk.”  And when the boy interest is not seen the same way through the eyes of the different girls who were on the way to becoming women. 

Pearl tells our narrator, “Sandy Bear” “that all of a sudden he rolls on his side, and brings his cute adorable little face close in and then he stops, STOPS, and I’m thinking, come on, come on, do it, pretty please, but I don’t want to make a mistake, so I vibe him, yes with my mind, and he does it.”

The white lies, the fibs “..I’ve pitched a few, that particular one was  genius. Back then a boy who smoked was considered a little bit bad but a boy who smoked menthols was clearly unpredictable.  And a Volkswagen van, especially with a pop-top meant one thing. Shaggin wagon.”

Summers end, that dock, if picked up and shaken like an old mat, would drop a million memories that would flutter from it like dust.”

Sandy Bear leaves Penn Lake, “lugging a load far heavier than the usual comic books and flip flops.”  “I was dragging the contact light of Sheldon’s cheek beneath the water, so much like the feel of his arms around me when we were nightswimming; and something else as well…”

“A picture of those Sheldon eyes: beloved, unmoving afraid.”

Nightswimmers is a small book, the first to be published by Myers.  If it is even a hint of what is to come the name Janet Turpin Myers is one to remember and to watch for her next book.  Published by one of the small publishers in this country it is worth more than just a read; it is worth sharing.

“Nightswimming” by Janet Turpin Myers

Published by Seraphin Editions, Woodstock, Ontario.


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