To try and explain the complications that ensue would be folly. Just look at the size of the cast ... Almost everyone from From Rockaway gets to make at least an appearance. Despite the overcrowding and the kookiness of the plot, Swell is anchored in real understanding of the people of Rockaway, what they went through in those years and their recourse to black humor.
Beneath all the buffoonery, the novel moonlights as a chronicle of women fed up with the imperious but weak and self-absorbed men all around them ... The narrative has many other sub-stories, occasionally pinballing between them without transition or antecedent. Some of the strands fray, some turn into knots, some unravel in a hot, unearned rush ... Eisenstadt’s madly saturated color was a little rich even for the relatively commonplace context of her previous novel, Kiss Out, but it seems especially ill-tuned to the disaster times of Swell ... Then again, it’s the wise ones who know that in hard times, you grab your people, have one drink too many and obsess over insignificant things. The louder and ruder the chatter, the better.
With tremendous tenderness, Eisenstadt captures the traumatized Rockaway of the early 2000s in swirling Technicolor, though her zany and colorful characters never quite manage to transcend their laundry lists of quirks to become fully human. But what the novel lacks in nuance, it makes up in heart. A whimsical portrait of a still-raw community that mostly hits the mark.