Night Swim by Jessica Keener

Print ISBN: 978-1-61188-105-9
E-book ISBN: 978-1-61188-107-3
Original Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Story Plant Publication Date: September 10, 2013
-- 284 pages

“This gripping first novel announces the arrival of a strong, distinct and fully evolved new voice.” – Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of A Visit from the Goon Squad

“An amazing new literary voice, Jessica Keener explores the fine-laced network of tangled familial relations in language both bold and intricate. Night Swim is the deeply moving and devastatingly beautiful work of a fearless writer.”
– Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants

“Jessica Keener has an ear for the nuances of family life and manages, in this book, a small miracle – describing, convincingly, a family suffering the rigidity and opaqueness of a small-scale tyrant, yet honoring his authority and treating his painful struggles with kindness. Keener's heroine, a 16-year old girl impatient to achieve womanliness, is a marvel of curiosity, impulsiveness, and generosity. What a lovely book!”
– C. Michael Curtis, Fiction Editor, The Atlantic

“Reading this was pure pleasure. Just gorgeous. Jessica Keener’s Night Swim is a poignant and sensual examination of a life and a nation on the cusp of change. Sixteen-year-old Sarah brings us a moody and burgeoning wisdom as she pulls us toward secrets we recognize – the desire to hurry past pain and loss toward adulthood, the pull to belong and yet not be absorbed completely into the will of others. In a delicate balance of rebellion and compassion, Sarah teaches us to listen and hold tight to our dreams.”
– Susan Henderson, author of Up From the Blue, A Shelf Awareness top 10 pick for 2010

“I could not put this book down. I related to so much of this, the whole demographic. Jessica Keener is an exquisite writer. Her observations are as good as good literature gets. Masterful. I tore through this at warp speed. Simple and gorgeous. I haven't read something with so much hunger in a long time.”
– Risa Miller, author of Welcome to Heavenly Heights, PEN Discovery Award winner.

“This polished gem is damn near perfect. There is so much to admire – the luminous prose, the details that bring a time and place and family so vigorously to life. The main character, Sarah, is so real and vital – a breathing, complicated, yearning, hungry-for-life young woman who bears her mother’s loss in a unique way.”
– Patry Francis, author of The Liar’s Diary

“Night Swim marks the debut of a brilliant novelist. With grace and compassion, Jessica Keener takes us back to Boston during the early 1970s. When maternal love is silenced at the untimely death of her mother, 16-year-old Sarah Kunitz finds her own voice through choices both sweet and sorrowful. Keener’s lyrical prose sweeps you into the story and onto a stage where Sarah’s here and now meet her yesterday for a flawless finish.”
– Carolyn Burns Bass, founder of #LitChat, a More magazine top 20 “follow-worthy” pick.

“Night Swim presents us with an entire world, drawn from our own recent past by means of the novelist's most important gifts: close observation and compassionate attentiveness. It feels real, and it feels true, and above all else it feels lived.”
--Jon Clinch, author of Finn, an American Library Association Notable Book

“Keener’s writing is lovely; she manages to build sentences that are both precise and ornate. While Keener’s Night Swim tells of a girl who has lost her bearings, her hold on her novel is both assured and poised.”
– Jewish Book Council

“Overall, this one was near perfection…and I very rarely say that. This is an author I will be following.”
– Books Like Breathing

“Keener is a wonderful new author with a powerful coming-of-age story on offer. Sarah's rebelliousness lends a fresh take on this classic theme, and I certainly look forward to more from Keener.”
– Elle Lit

“Keener’s observations perfectly capture a certain kind of 1970s adolescence: the adults who tried too hard, the sudden appearance of a joint when in the presence of older cousins, the way a grownup party could spin from fun to disturbing in a blink. Most exhilaratingly, she taps into the thrilling moments when a girl of 16 can see her future, whether in music or books or a boy’s smile.”
– Boston Globe

“Keener is a big talent with a particular knack for detail and a finely tuned ear. Through the skilled rendering she offers of this family and the characters who surround them, she gives us a story that makes us cringe and lurch, laugh and, literally, weep.”
– Style Substance Soul

“This memorable debut will strike a universal chord with readers.”
– Booklist

“Fearlessly haunting.... This is a novel not to be missed out on. One, that I highly suggest you read at least once,
if not more.”
– A Soul Unsung

“A deeply touching and acutely felt story.”
– Coffee and a Book Chick

“When I started reading Night Swim, by Jessica Keener, I realized I would never want to put it down. And I didn't. I read it really quickly and I really enjoyed it. I totally didn't want it to end. But, alas, as all great reads, it had to.”
– Good Girl Gone Redneck

“The real star of this book is Keener's writing. She writes in such a way that you really feel for the characters.”
– A Bookish Affair

“I'm excited that this is Ms. Keener's first novel since I hope it means we can expect a lot more from her in the future. I will be keeping my eyes and ears open and will look forward to reading her next book.”
– Boarding in My Forties

“With Night Swim, Keener has emerged as a force to be reckoned with.”
– The Nervous Breakdown

“I really loved how the author used certain words and phrases to create this world filled with confusion, bullying, and a search for love and belonging. It is all at once profound and thoughtful and very accessible –
a pleasure to read.”
– Sarah Reads Too Much

“I don’t know what I loved more – Jessica Keener’s descriptions of the world contained within the book, or her ability to really capture the voice of each and every individual character.”
– The Lost Entwife

“Keener’s prose is spectacular, almost poetic. I found myself rereading many of the passages just to experience the beauty of her written word. She gives the reader the gift of a wonderful, honest, coming-of-age story. At just under 300 pages it is not a long read, but one that will resonate.”
– Jenn’s Book Shelves

“Keener's main character Sarah will thrill you, she will worry you, and, at times, frustrate you, but she will also seem as familiar to you as a distant memory within your own past.”
– Author Exposure

“This is a beautiful and moving story. I read it in one long afternoon under a sunny window and it has stayed with me ever since. There are parts that may bring a tear, but this ride is well worth the price of admission and I highly recommend it.”
– Connotation Press

“I want to read this beautiful first novel again, and soon, in order to luxuriate in Keener’s writing. However, I need time to allow the real pain and joy of adolescence, and of dysfunctional family, to settle. Night Swim may break your heart. Like Sarah, you’ll older and wiser. And thanks to Keener’s talent, you’ll remember all the very private details of your own burgeoning youth.”
– Loudmouthkid62

“Just to give you an idea of how much I enjoyed this book, I’ll tell you that I read in every spare moment I had, enabling me to finish this novel in record time.”
– Cindy Reads

“Witty, intriguing...Keener's main character Sarah will thrill you, she will worry you, and, at times, frustrate you, but she will also seem as familiar to you as a distant memory within your own past.”

– Publishers Weekly

“Hello, Jessica Keener! Come take your place next to the greats in literary history. With this novel you have earned it…. Where has this author been all my reading life? No book has so captivated me. This writer’s work is a shining example of brave risk-taking.”
– Dragon My Feet

“It affected me so much more than I thought it would. I was shocked at how right this book is.”
– Kelly’s France Blog

Sarah Kunitz is Night Swim’s narrator and protagonist. The second oldest and only daughter of the four Kunitz children, Sarah is a gifted singer looking back to a pivotal and tragic time in her life when she was sixteen.

Irene Kunitz is Sarah’s mother, a beautiful but emotionally puzzling woman who, Sarah reveals: “moved without gravity, a cumulative effect of her pain pills, the ones she took three times a day.”

Leonard Kunitz is Sarah’s father. Sarah describes him as a “tenured professor at a small, private college, who rarely modulated his voice between podium and pantry.” Sarah’s father drinks too much. He loves jazz and literature. He has a volatile temper.

Peter Kunitz is Sarah’s oldest brother. At seventeen, he is a talented rock musician. Pale and light-haired like Sarah, Peter is “lanky—all arms and legs, “ whom Sarah loves and admires.

Robert Kunitz is the second to youngest of the four Kunitz children. Robert is rigid in his thinking, emotionally brittle, super smart, and a voracious reader. He is the purveyor of the family gold fish tank.

Elliot Kunitz is the youngest member of the Kunitz family, who, Sarah says, “came into this world bearing the unseeable of unseeables: faith.” Elliot is dreamy and wise. His nature is to accept others’ imperfections.

Dora is the Kunitz’ black, live-in housekeeper. Sarah observes that Dora “looked at me as if I had hidden things and she was going to find them… She talked as if she knew everything about life, as if nothing could shock her, as if she had seen it all.”

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz lives in a posh, suburban world of 1970 Boston. From the outside, her parents' lifestyle appears enviable - a world defined by cocktail parties, expensive cars, and live-in maids to care for their children - but inside their five-bedroom house, all is not well for the Kunitz family. Coming home from school, Sarah finds her well-dressed, pill-popping mother lying disheveled on their living room couch. At night, to escape their parents' arguments, Sarah and her oldest brother, Peter, find solace in music, while her two younger brothers retreat to their rooms and imaginary lives. Any vestige of decorum and stability drains away when a family tragedy occurs one terrible winter day. Soon after, their father, a self-absorbed, bombastic professor begins an affair with a younger colleague. Sarah, aggrieved, dives into two summer romances that lead to unforeseen consequences.

In a story that will make you laugh and cry, NIGHT SWIM shows how a family, bound by heartache, learns to love again.


“This earnest debut centers on Sarah as she tunnels through new depths of loneliness.”The New York Times


Jessica KeenerJessica Keener has earned lavish praise from the literary community (including The New York Times and the Boston Globe), the blogging community, and a distinguished collection of her fellow writers. Sara Gruen, the bestselling author of Water for Elephants called Jessica "an amazing new literary voice" while Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan calls her "a strong, distinct and fully evolved new voice" and bestselling author Caroline Leavitt named her "a literary master."


“I loved this novel. It was just breathtaking and I was really left in awe. There was not a wasted word, or scene or emotion that did not resonate or ring true. The pages ached.”Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You


on October 16 • by

Comments are closed.