Saturday, March 23, 2013

The J.M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society, by Barbara J. Zitwer

Atria Books, ISBN 9781476718743, December 2012

Joey Rubin is a rising young architect in New York, battling the glass ceiling and still hurting from the end of a romance with a co-worker. She's developed a hard, cynical edge, and has been losing touch with her friends from college and earlier. She's also starting to realize that maybe it was a mistake to get rid of everything that reminded her of her late mother, after her father remarried, moved to Florida, and deeded the condo they'd all lived in together to her.

Then the lead partner on a project she's done much of the work on is badly hurt in an accident, on the very day they're scheduled to make the presentation to the firm. First she has to make the presentation on her own--and then she finds out that she's going to make the trip to the UK, on nearly no notice, to get the project started.

It's not just any project.. It's converting Stanway House, a house with a strong connection to J.M. Barrie, to a hotel and resort. It is, in many ways, a dream project, but it also pulls her out of her comfort zone. And that's before she discovers the skinny-dipping senior citizens who share her love of J.M. Barrie.

Joey's oldest and dearest friend, Sarah, is married to an Englishman and has been raising a family in London for the last fifteen years. Eagerly anticipating the reunion, Joey and Sarah are both shocked and uncomfortable with how much they've grown apart. At Stanway House in the Cotswolds, the locals aren't exactly welcoming, and the widowed caretaker of the property, Ian, is initially suspicious and a bit hostile.

But when she's out running one day, she finds a group of elderly ladies swimming in a nearby pond. In January. They encourage and dare her to join them, and she has an amazing experience.

It's also the beginning of a breakthrough on her project. Aggie is her friend Sarah's mother-in-law. Lilia is Ian's former mother-in-law. Joey starts to make connections, learn about the tiny community, and grow both personally and professionally. She's in for some emotional upheaval along the way.

This book deals beautifully with the relationships among the women, and matter-of-factly treats elderly women as individuals. It's an enjoyable book.

However, in some ways, it is a bit irritating. There are Americanisms in the mouths of the English characters, and improbable Britishisms in Joey's mouth. Spectators don't cheer loudly at equestrian events on either side of the Atlantic. For a supposed passionate fan of J. M. Barrie, Joey is apparently unaware of the existence of the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden, and Zitwer never mentions its existence in the course of the book.

Research, research, research. It's a writer's stock in trade as much as a good and graceful command of the English language.

Nevertheless, a very enjoyable read.

I received a free electronic galley from the author.