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Bailey, Don.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, c1984. 140pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-546-5 (cloth) $21.95, 0-88750-547-3 (paper) $ 11.95.

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Boh Kinczyk

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

After his wife Wanda dies, Wayne Maitland stops living. He takes a year's leave from his teaching position and surrounds himself with disaster.

In "The Final Approach," the first of the eight stories in Swim for your life, Wayne's daughter, Gloria, has just tried for the third time to commit suicide; his young son, George, is still plagued with nightmares of Wanda's death; and his father, Thomas Maitland, has just signed himself out of the hospital (he's dying of cancer) and appeared at Wayne's door. Miraculously, the family heals itself. Thomas, ready to die, moves into the apartment and teaches the boy to love; Gloria, ready to give birth, moves back and teaches Wayne to live. And Wayne decides to take them all flying. It's all very cozy, and, to a certain extent, believable.

But I don't really care. I rarely feel close to any of the characters. Bailey doesn't permit it. The first scene is wonderful: Gloria is in the back of an ambulance, dreaming the lurching dreams of a pregnant eighteen-year-old who has just swallowed a bottle of Valium. She imagines flying with her father:

When two Canada geese appear near the wing in a manner that suggests that they want to hitch a ride, Gloria would like to shout with excitement, wave, something, but she notes that her father's reaction to the astounding sight is a mere nod of acknowledgement in their direction, as if their appearance was for his benefit. He had the knack of making the astonishing seem ordinary and familiar.

Bailey's stories have many wonderful moments but he breaks the spell again and again by shifting points of view. Scene two moves us abruptly to another part of the city where Gloria's father "wanders about in his apartment watering the plants." I want to see the world either through Gloria's eyes or Wayne's-not both. Not in the same story.

The title story, "Swim for your life," is more satisfying, because Bailey permits us to view the events entirely from Wayne's perspective. He's on a yacht, shouting encouragement to Bernice, his young fiancee, who is attempting to swim Lake Ontario. It is a.long night. He has time to dream. And he reveals, gradually, the special moments of his life that give him definition. Those lovely and tender remembered moments end in a moment of victory: Bernice beats the lake. Wayne and George plunge in to congratulate her and "to know what it was like. . .that last little way."

Frankly, I liked watching the small forward steps Wayne Maitland takes. But once is enough-the characters don't draw me back for a closer look.

Boh Kinczyk, Central Elgin C.I., St. Thomas, Ont.
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