2022 Reviews · contemporary fiction

Book Review: Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Title: Florence Adler Swims Forever

Author: Rachel Beanland

Published: February 3rd 2021

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 320

Genres: Fiction, Modern

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 3 stars

Atlantic City, 1934. 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. Despite the cramped quarters, this is the apartment where they raised their two daughters, Fannie and Florence, and it always feels like home.

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.

Esther only wants to keep her daughters close and safe but some matters are beyond her control: there’s Fannie’s risky pregnancy—not to mention her always-scheming husband, Isaac—and the fact that the handsome heir of a hotel notorious for its anti-Semitic policies, seems to be in love with Florence.

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.

Based on a true story and told in the vein of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions and Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl, Beanland’s family saga is a breathtaking portrait of just how far we will go to in order to protect our loved ones and an uplifting portrayal of how the human spirit can endure—and even thrive—after tragedy.

Review:

‘Florence reminded Gussie of the dolphins they sometimes spotted offshore, so graceful they barely looked like they were moving.’

Florence Adler Swims Forever is a family drama deeply rooted in 1930s Atlantic City. A story of tragedy, hope, protection, lies, secrets and long held tensions, Florence Adler Swims Forever is a fragile set piece.

Florence Adler Swims Forever is directly inspired by the real life experiences of a girl from Atlantic City, Florence Lowenthal. Florence Lowenthal was author Rachel Beanland’s great-great aunt. I was touched by this literary tribute to a family member, which definitely encouraged me to give this book a go, even though I missed reading this novel when it was first released. Florence Adler Swims Forever seemed to have great potential. The synopsis drew me in and I was very interested in the historical context of this novel. Although I hurtled through Florence Adler Swims Forever in a day due to the quick pace, this one didn’t quite get there for me. However, I’m glad I finally knocked this one off my shelves!

Atlantic City is not an area I am very familiar with at all. It was a welcome change to read a book set in this location and time frame. There isn’t a huge array of historical fiction books around that are set in the 1930s, so Beanland’s novel held initial appeal. I think the setting and period detail surrounding 1930s Atlantic City was this book’s shining feature. I appreciated the liberal descriptions of this historical stage. I was able to take in the sights, sounds, smells and common features of Beanland’s set. There was a sense of understanding and vibrance to the location references, which clearly comes from the author’s passion and knowledge of her setting.

Florence Adler Swims Forever is a somewhat melancholic piece. It begins with a tragedy and I have to say that I was not expecting this terrible accident to occur so early on in the piece. Once this sad event occurs, the bulk of the novel focuses on the fallout and how the various characters (there is a large cast) deal with the upsetting family event. There are a high volume of characters and Beanland takes a shifting form of narration to relay the thoughts of each different protagonist featured in the story. At times I felt it was a quite overwhelming and I wasn’t able to fully affix myself to the cast. Florence Adler Swims Forever is a strong character driven novel, but I personally experienced some difficulty in connecting to the protagonists. At times I was also at odds with their actions and intentions. I could appreciate their sense of love and protection, but it was also cruel in a way. My apologies if this is unclear, but it is hard to divulge too much information without ruining the plot for others!

Although rich in setting detail and generous in character, Florence Adler Swims Forever was a book that seemed to pass me by. I hope others have a more fulfilling experience with Beanland’s novel than I did.

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland was published on 3rd February 2021 by Simon & Schuster. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Florence Adler Swims Forever, Rachel Beanlandhere.

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