Connecting with Karen Brown’s “Swimming”

by Rebekah Shaw  ·  April 08, 2018

As the temperature begins to rise in Atlanta, I find myself frequently dreaming of summer days lounging by the pool.

Like many others, I fondly recall Memorial Day weekend as the time to reconnect with friends, soak up the sun, and eat way too much food. As a kid, the extent of my troubles during that weekend were a stomachache and perhaps a sunburn. Karen Brown’s “Swimming,” featured in Five Points Vol. 13, number 1, however, depicts a far more complex Memorial Day.

“Elise felt the pull of repetition, the ease with which she was drawn, like everyone, as if into the spokes of a wheel.”

Between the nice houses with big lawns and tempting swimming pools, Elise’s neighborhood seems like the ideal place to raise a family. And Memorial Day in the neighborhood has a tradition: a long night of drinking and story-telling among the adults. One story that gets retold each summer is that of the two mysterious lovers caught kissing in several neighborhood pools. As the story goes on, we realize that the two lovers are Elise and Joe Trevor, another married man in the neighborhood.

Brown slowly reveals the cracks in the Sunset Bayou image. The over-indulgence and irresponsibility of the adults. The lack of communication that ruins relationships. The monotonous lifestyle that lulls Elise into infidelity.

Elise’s affair is an escape that she holds onto nearly a decade later. In a moment of carelessness during her affair, Elise is caught kissing Joe by her 2-year-old daughter, Mona. “The only witness,” as it is later stated at the end of the story after Elise catches Mona in the pool with a boy.

In many ways, the adults are behaving more like teenagers—the drinking, swimming in underwear, and poor decision making. Brown makes this even more clear by mirroring Elise and Mona’s behavior. But what everyone is really searching for, and missing, is happiness.

Rebekah Shaw is studying English with a concentration in literature at Georgia State University.