Once you read that last chapter of a good book and put it down, there is so much to do and so much to consider. You want to take a moment and decide how it made you feel, or write down your two cents, maybe even cross it off your list and reach for the next book. But my personal favourite? Putting myself in the story and seeing how I’d navigate through the plot, deal with the issues, and respond to different situations. It’s a fun mental game of “Sink or Swim” I like to play. Today, I made two of my fellow book club members take the “Sink or Swim” test for six book club reads. Let’s see how they fared.
It’s the early 1920s, sexism and racism is rampant. You have moved to the town of Black Mountain – a dark place – to revive a dead press. Your very first week there, an innocent man is shot by the sheriff, a self-appointed sheriff who considers this action appropriate. You meet a lot of wild characters along the way, and you slowly find your freedom of speech/press slipping from your hands. Would you sink or swim until the end?
Mandy: Standing up for freedom of speech as a woman in the 1920s? Being part of the era that instigated the women's rights movement? I'm going to say swim, with hope.
Lauren: OK - so full disclosure? I frequently think about frontier living in the Old West. Literary Westerns are my guiltiest pleasure, so I envision myself as a kind of Western Peter Parker in Two-Gun & Sun, not just writing the news but making it, too. So it’s an all-caps SWIM for me.
You’re living with your parents, and siblings in their 20s. One of your brothers just had a baby and has decided to be a single parent, and the other one has no plans of moving out while he runs a cleaning business in town. Your sister, who can be hard to communicate with has recently come out of the closet. Your mother, who is clearly suggesting that all her kids should move out, is having emotional breakdowns whilst trying to keep it together, and your father is all rainbows and sunshine until a blast from the past leaves him in a pool of tears. It’s a lot, isn’t it? Sink immediately or swim?
Mandy: I lived at home in my early 20s and I can safely say immediate sinkage.
Lauren: I could talk about how I’d probably scrap it out with my fellow siblings or console my emotional parents...but I’d still be living at home in my 20s – a no-go for this no-longer-dependent. I’m sunk!
You moved to Ottawa and you’re the new medical intern at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. Within two weeks one of your patient dies under mysterious circumstances. You’re sure of your innocence but the ones investigating the death might not be so sure. Caught between two feuding groups of anesthesiologists and navigating a romance with journalism student and barista Susan Jonestown, who is investigating a drug trafficking conspiracy involving the hospital, you soon get embroiled in the investigation. Do you sink or do you make it to the shore?
Mandy: I would swim to prove my innocence. (Also this sounds kind of fun given that it is strictly fictitious.)
Lauren: The characters in Death and the Intern all have huge personalities, so I’m sinking before even meeting Susan. (Could Desperately Sinking Susan be a new movie?) I couldn’t imagine fighting for my innocence on a good day, let alone when I’m surrounded by egotistical doctors-in-waiting.
You’re looking out for a friend who is addled with paranoia which is quite possibly irrational, while you yearn for a lover across the sea, one that is seared onto your brain and you’re not sure you’ll ever meet again. Do you swim the emotional currents or eventually wreck and sink?
Mandy: Ride out the emotional currents. My limbs might be a little battered, but probably still intact on the other side. Swim.
Lauren: I like to think of myself as a good listener – I can help my ailing friend to shore and remember the good times all in one Swim.
Shenzheners by Yiwei Xue (translated by Darryl Sterk), Linda Leith Publishing
Scenario (from the excerpt)
You’re a young traveller who has found love in the most unexpected of circumstances, but before you could get your grasp on it, it has slipped into nothingness, making you question its existence and instilling in you the fear of never finding love again. Does the emotional wave sink your ship or does it swim through it battered but afloat?
Mandy: I might actually plummet into the sea. This story rocked me emotionally and that memory hasn't totally dissipated. SINK.
Lauren: I remember being delighted by this story and then Xue Yiwei reached out from the pages and ripped my heart clear out. Sink.
You’re a young school child enamoured by a senior who doesn’t know you exist. Your efforts to do something special for them are brushed off. Meanwhile, you stand witness to vicious school bullying and the only activity that you looked forward to at school has big secrets. Does your young mind stay afloat through the seas ordinary life marked with extraordinary complexities?
Mandy: I definitely experienced this as a child and I definitely survived (after lots of tear-streaked scribbling in my diary). So I’m going with swim!
Lauren: I remember having a crush on an older kid at school and it was never reciprocated. I also remember getting a face full of snow from another, much older kid. Sure I was devastated, but hindsight is 20/20, so I’m swimming!
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