In “The Swimmer,” Neddy Merill swims home through a chain of suburban swimming pools, which he imagines is actually the “Lucinda River,” a wild river flowing into unexplored territory. These pools—the focal points of idyllic midsummer afternoons—represent the desire of the suburban upper-middle class to control their environment by repressing unpleasantness or ugliness of any kind. Indeed, Ned’s characterization of the pools as the wild “Lucinda River” obscures the reality of the situation: the river is actually a disconnected series of suburban backyard pools, each one boxed-in and often sanitized with chemicals, surrounded by neighbors offering cocktails. Characterizing the pools as the “Lucinda River,” however, enables Neddy’s image of himself as a primal man battling his environment through his unique strength and adventurousness, or an explorer charting a course through an untouched landscape. In reality, though, Ned is clearly a vain suburban socialite wandering through domesticated backyards he has seen many times during parties. These suburban residents curate their backyards like Neddy curates his life, choosing only the pleasurable or beautiful elements and casting out all that is ugly. Regardless, though, the ugliness is always present: backyard swimming pools are the sites of confrontations with mistresses, spurned neighbors, and fawning but hollow conversations, and Neddy’s swim along the river sours when his immersion in fantasy can no longer obscure his ruined life. In the end, the pools drive home the futility of trying to banish discomfort and displeasure from life.
Swimming Pools Quotes in The Swimmer
He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county. He had made a discovery, a contribution to modern geography; he would name the stream Lucinda after his wife. He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure.
He took a shower, washed his feet in a cloudy and bitter solution, and made his way to the edge of the water. It stank of chlorine and looked to him like a sink. A pair of lifeguards in a pair of towers blew police whistles at what seemed to be regular intervals and abused the swimmers through a public address system. Neddy remembered the sapphire water at the Bunkers’ with longing and thought that he might contaminate himself—damage his own prosperousness and charm —by swimming in this murk, but he reminded himself that he was an explorer, a pilgrim, and that this was merely a stagnant bend in the Lucinda River.
The swim was too much for his strength but how could he have guessed this, sliding down the banister that morning and sitting in the Westerhazys’ sun? His arms were lame. His legs felt rubbery and ached at the joints. The worst of it was the cold in his bones and the feeling that he might never be warm again. Leaves were falling down around him and he smelled wood smoke on the wind.