The Night Swimmer

Praise for
The Night Swimmer

“Mr. Bondurant skillfully conjures the elemental world his characters inhabit.”

—
The New York Times

“Evocative and often lyrical in its descriptions of Ireland's landscape, lore, cadences, and character . . . Bondurant's portrait of Highgate, the novel's Prospero, is unforgettable.”

—
San Francisco Chronicle

“It's a rare writer who can turn the hypnotic euphoria of endurance sports into a moving literary experience.”

—
Outside
magazine

“Bondurant has given us a group of characters full of life and danger. . . . This is a story that will stay with you.”

—
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“But when Bondurant explores what it is like to push yourself to the brink, whether with physical activity, drugs and alcohol, or lust, he captures an intensity of experience the reader won't soon forget.”

—
BookPage

“[A] dark and fleetingly mysterious novel.”

—
Library Journal


The Night Swimmer
is intriguing, seductive, treacherous, and frightening. Bondurant's writing is so beautiful, poignant, and poetic that the book is worth a second read.”

—Lynne Cox, author of
Swimming to Antarctica
and
Grayson

“Before you plunge into
The Night Swimmer,
be forewarned: there will be ghosts (and goats), and Gaelic spells cast by black waves of invisible power. But mostly you will be dazzled by the sheer force of Matt Bondurant's storytelling. In prose as rugged as Ireland's coastline and just as enchanting, Bondurant has offered up a breathtaking story of what happens when dreams come true and hearts are unbridled.”

—Betsy Carter, author of
Swim to Me
and
The Puzzle King

“Lush, brutal, and otherworldly,
The Night Swimmer
is completely transporting. This darkly beautiful love story—set in Bondurant's distinctively captivating and merciless coastal Ireland—will pull you under.”

—Julianna Baggott, author of
Girl Talk

Also by Matt Bondurant

The Wettest Country in the World
(also published as
Lawless
)

The Third Translation

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Contents

PART I: DARTS

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

PART II: A POURED PINT

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

PART III: A POEM

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

About Matt Bondurant

A Scribner Reading Group Guide

For Stacy

PART I
DARTS

 

Sitting in a chair on the stones before the house drinking Scotch and reading Aeschylus, I think then of how we are gifted. Of how we have requited our appetites, of how we have kept our skin clean and warm and satisfied our various appetites and lusts. I would not want anything finer than these dark trees and this golden light. I read Greek and I think that the advertising man across the street may do the same; that given some respite from war and need the mind, even the mind of the ad salesman, inclines to good things. Mary is upstairs and I will have my way here, very soon. This is the sharp thrill of our mortality, the link between the rain-wet stone and the hair that grows from our bodies. But it is while we kiss and whisper that the children climb onto a stool and eat some sugary sodium arsenite that is meant to kill ants.

The most wonderful thing about life seems to be that we hardly tap our potential for self-destruction. We may desire it, it may be what we dream of, but we are dissuaded by a beam of light, and change in the wind.

The Journals of John Cheever

Prologue

Now, in calm weather, to swim in the open ocean is as easy to the practiced swimmer as to ride in a spring-carriage ashore. But the awful lonesomeness is intolerable. The intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! who can tell it?

Herman Melville,
Moby-Dick

I
t began with a dart, a pint, and a poem, three elements that seemed to demonstrate the imprecise nature of fate. When Fred stepped up to the line, the dart held loosely in his hand, you could see in the way he carried his body the assurances of a man who was well prepared. Fred was always lucky, but to say that now seems to remove something essential from him. In fact it is Fred who should be telling you this story, as he was the one preparing for this all along. Not me.

*  *  *

The judges in green suit jackets stood by with clipboards and the rest of us, the other contestants, the wives, girlfriends, family, and other various hangers-on, quietly drank our free pints of Murphy's in a cavernous pub in the city of Cork, Ireland, 2002. There were thirty candidates in the first round, drawn from thousands of entrants. The contestants seemed all cut from the same mold: all
men, between the ages of twenty-five and forty, with that bearing, look, and attitude you see in bars all over America and the world; a sort of studied nonchalance, an ease with the environment of drink and bar sport, the verbal acuity, the ability to hold drunken court. Average, unaffected attractiveness, most a bit on the portly side. Roughly manicured facial hair. The kind of men who excel at giving toasts at a wedding. Fred loved to give a toast almost more than anything. He coached me through one I gave for my father's retirement party.

Under a minute, Elly, that's the key, he said.

We devised a simple recipe of amusing story, then heartwarming anecdote, finished with a touch of personal sentiment. Neat as a pin: laugh, cry, cheer.

The Murphy's contest was a sort of dilettante's challenge, which suited my husband. Fred moved between interests like an errant housefly, but he had a focus of attention that was astonishing and exasperating, like the boy so enamored by the spider that he doesn't feel the rain. The first prize was a pub in Ireland, title and deed.

*  *  *

It was a common enough dream for young Americans of a certain set: by moving into a mostly imagined past, represented by Europe, we could recapture something we so desperately wanted in the present. Or simply a way out of the meat grinder of the suburbs. We named our place in Burlington Revolutionary Road, a joke that no one got as far as we could tell. It was Fred's idea. Fred always wanted to admit our hypocrisy and failings. He could have been a champion medieval monk, so adept he was at self-flagellation. Fred felt if we got it out in the open, acknowledged our defeat, then it wouldn't turn out so badly for us.

By the time he won the contest Fred was nearly crushed by the six years he'd worked in corporate training. When he started at the company, fresh out of graduate school, they were still using paper handouts and the same binders on memo writing they had used in the 1970s. Fred came into the Burlington headquarters with effective
ideas and churned out a few PowerPoint presentations, and in a year he was the senior consultant in charge of product development, creating a new line of seminars, communication presentations, and short talks on effective e-mail writing strategies. We bought a house near the lake in Burlington and settled in. I got a part-time teaching job and spent most of my time swimming in Lake Champlain. I'd come up the road from the lake and Fred would be out on the deck mixing a pitcher of margaritas, some kind of meat sizzling on the grill. It was a good life. We should have considered what it was we were giving up when we moved to Ireland.

*  *  *

One evening Fred's father called us from a seaplane, circling over our neighborhood. He was looking for a place to land.

Anyplace to get a steak in this town? he shouted over the drone of the engine.

Fred was half in the bag, crouched by the fireplace with the phone contemplating building a fire while I lined up a couple shots of Patrón with salt and lime. This was the year before Fred won the contest, and it was a night when it felt like the world was going to sleep, a sensation as calm and benevolent as stretching out in a length of warm salt water.

Dad? Fred said into the phone.

I need landing coordinates, his father shouted.

We could hear the whine of the seaplane outside as he banked above the lake, coming low over the trees. Too low, it seemed, and for a moment I thought of the providence of power lines, water towers, other tall structures.

You've got to be fucking kidding me, I said.

Fred waved me off, a slice of lime in his hand.

Do you see the marina? That's your best bet. We'll pick you up in fifteen minutes.

I was always amazed how Fred would spring into action whenever his father called. He had taken to spending most nights wearing headphones hunched at his computer for hours in a kind of priestly attendance to solitary ritual, listening to obscure Internet radio stations,
typing whatever came into his head. Fred was a big bear of a man, but at his desk he looked like a little boy sitting in a tiny chair, surrounded by tiny furniture, a tall pint glass of bourbon on ice beside him. He swayed with his eyes closed, tapping away at the tiny keyboard, composing long strings of nonsense.

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