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The Underwater Window - A Swimmer's Novel by Dan Stephenson

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The Underwater Window by Dan Stephenson

The Underwater Window by Dan Stephenson

Dan Stephenson / Untreed Reads Publishing
What is a swimmer's Olympic journey - or rather, what is the valuable part of the journey, the end or the trip?
We all know quotes like "Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey (unknown author)" and see the truth in them - at least sometimes we see the truth. The ultimate goal for a swimmer is an Olympic Gold Medal. We can all guess that the path to one would be a lot more intriguing than the medal itself.
More often, we see that value after the trip is completed. We reach the destination and find that, while we are happy to have achieved the goal, it may not be all that we thought it would be... the trip itself was the thing that really mattered. And, at least for some, even if the goal is not achieved, the trip was more than worth it.

That is what underlies The Underwater Window, a novel about a swimmer, Doyle Wilson, and his journey, along with his team mate, friend, and nemesis Archie Hayes, toward an Olympic medal in the 400 meter freestyle. The story is more interesting than just that simple idea, but that is the gist of it - point A to point B, although that does not give it enough credit. The story is about all the things along the way to B, to the Olympics, to the medal. It was fun and enlightening to be on the journey with Doyle and Archie; I enjoyed the book. Many of the characters seem to be amalgamations of real swimmers and coaches, and it is interesting the way the stories play out, and the way the characters interact. A good read!

The story opens with what might be Doyle's last swim, the 400 freestyle at the World Championships. He is 24 years old, has been among the best in the world for middle-distance freestyle for a while, but has not made an Olympic team, his (and many, many other swimmers) dream. It was not a goal, because "goals are hard, cold numbers: a time, a place." In the finals is also his teammate, Archie (the world record holder). Doyle has been putting off med school for a while, living with pressure form his parents, and working through personal doubts; all of these are coming to a head. Does he stop swimming and go on with "real life" after the world championships, or does he give it one more try, does he train for the next Olympics? Obviously, he decides to go for it.

Along the way we meet other teammates, his parents, old coaches, and other swimmers. Doyle becomes a guardian angel for Archie (Archie is a Michael Phelpsian character, on top of the swimming world in multiple events, and is going to go for a big medal haul at the next Olympics). Doyle learns much about himself as a person and how he fits in among those around him, about his bubble, and about the thing he has that Archie does not have, the thing that makes Doyle particularly special in his world.

Doyle starts the book as a fairly introspective person, but he becomes even more self-aware as he travels the road to the Olympics. His coach thinks he can go from a 3:40 to a 3:36 in the 400 free, based on a lot of data (the swim coach is channeling John Urbanchek) and belief in his swimmer. His parents don't fully understand why he is doing this. His college coach, a second father-figure, supports him, but that throws in a twist or two. The woman he loves (but he doesn't know he loves her), loves him (he doesn't know that either). And Archie keeps on chugging along, moving toward greatness, getting into trouble, getting saved by Doyle, along the way.

Does Doyle get to the Olympics? Does he get a medal? What about Dolyes parents, love life, and what about that bubble - what is the deal with that thing? Read the book to find out!

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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