It starts with a beautiful title, “Swimming with Jonah.” It begins with a jump and continues to build to a haunting conclusion. It’s Audrey Schulman’s mesmerizing new novel. With the success of her debut novel, “The Cage,” there is unquestionably no sophomore slump here.
Jane Guy, the awkward, insecure child of a world-renowned physician and a beautiful Bostonian ballerina, has come to attend Queen’s Medical School on a tiny Indonesian island- a teaching facility that caters to children of privilege who have been rejected by American medical schools, and specializes in motivating problem students- no matter what the cost.
Surrounded by jungle and sea, Jane is plunged into excess heat and psychological abuse by the teaching staff. She tries to find some connection, some link before she descends into the unknown. Enter Keefer, a fellow student. Together they watch Jonah, a shark kept in an ocean pen, slowly circling his cage.
As days extend into weeks, Jane feels herself changing retreating deeper into a body and spirit she no longer recognizes. Desperation grows but failure is not an option for Jane. It is not an option.
Schulman, Canadian-born, now living in Massachusetts teaching creative writing, has written a taut psychological story of a woman lost within herself yet finds the resolve to grow, and in turn, become a strong and softly noble character.
It is an adventure story. It is a story of medicine. It is a story of a woman struggling to fully inhabit her mind and body. It is a story of intoxicating surfaces (islands, jungles, oceans. Yet, with clear prose, sharp words, and honest phrasing, she dives below the beautiful surface to find an entirely different world.
Within this world in “Swimming with Jonah,” Schulman becomes Jacques Custeau of literature. Her exploration of a setting, a scene, a body, a mind, of the psychological nuances that makes one whole, the book doesn’t swim on the surface, it dives down deep, soaking the reader with truth and beauty.