I was gripped. In less than 10 pages, I became a mere subject of the audience, allowing Beanland's storytelling ability to overpower me, rather than taking the story in consciously and internally commenting ... What's remarkable is not how quickly the book hooked me, but how it held my attention during and after reading. After spending a pleasant afternoon flying through the first 96 pages, I woke up at 3 a.m. thinking about the plot. I simply couldn't put it out of my head. I finished in two days ... The juxtaposition of tragedy set against the backdrop of a vacation city makes the story all the more compelling ... Beanland takes readers through a family saga brimming with intimacy, bringing them as close to a fictional character as can be ... The greatest stories don't necessarily have happy endings. And Beanland's wraps in a way that satisfies a reader's appetite by essentially opening a new chapter for the Adlers and closing the old one for readers ... While I felt I wanted more when I turned the last page, mostly I felt awe. I sat for a minute, taking it in. Not unlike one would do, taking in the sunset on a beach – perhaps in Atlantic City.
The reader learns a great deal about these characters, even as they hide the truth from one another ... At times, the secrets in this novel strain credulity. Culturally, the desire to protect the family from bad news rings true; structurally, the machinations involved become problematic. It is hard to imagine pregnant Fannie would be passive and unquestioning for quite so long ... Beanland’s subplots also require willing suspension of disbelief ... Sometimes the plot works against the novel, so that an incident that initially sparks curiosity begins to slow the narrative ... Despite these limitations, Beanland’s novel draws the reader in. The situation she describes is poignant and the characters she develops win us over with their private grief. Beanland is particularly good at conjuring 1930s Atlantic City, with its small family-owned hotels yielding to larger, more commercial palaces.
... old-fashioned historical fiction in the best sense. It envelopes the reader in a time and place rich with detail and historical event ... The kaleidoscope of viewpoints is tied together by this well-organized narrative structure, allowing the reader to easily follow the shifting emotions of each character, as well as how each comes to terms with their own grief over Florence ... Florence is such a vividly drawn character, with her red bathing cap and flapper insouciance, that one only wishes she could have stayed and been an active part of the narrative a bit longer. However, her strong personality suffuses the story with a joy for life that isn’t extinguished with her untimely death. She is a character who won’t be forgotten by her family and clearly one who inspired her descendants.
Loosely based on her own family history, Beanland’s first novel is a strong family drama. While the ending tidies each storyline up a bit perfectly, this is a finely realized work of historical fiction.
... an engrossing, heartfelt debut ... The book is divided into three parts, each taking place over the course of a month. Within each part, we are given the perspectives of six different characters. Although this ultimately proves to be a very interesting way to tell the story, I found it difficult to attach to any one character when I began reading. For those who struggle with multiple perspectives, I urge you to read on anyway --- the Adler family and their friends are close-knit enough to keep every character in the forefront, and the structure of the novel allows each storyline to live on its own while furthering the plot as a whole ... a perfect generational saga that explores the depths of the risks we are willing to take to protect those we love. The Adlers are complicated, and their decision to protect Fannie may seem unbelievable, but Beanland renders them so beautifully that she manages to pack the full breadth of human emotion into nearly every scene. Her prose is tender and frank, but it is her keen eye for emotional nuance that makes the book soar. It is not easy to begin a novel with such a gripping tragedy and convince your readers to sit with their heartache as they read on, but Beanland writes with such grace and compassion that the book is instantly engrossing, even for those who prefer 'happy' stories ... announces the arrival of a tremendous new talent and is sure to top many 'Best Of' lists in a year that needs more heartfelt, unforgettable fiction.
Florence Adler Swims Forever beautifully brings to life Atlantic City in the 1930s, offering the sights, sounds and smells of the beach and the boardwalk, as well as the daily life of Atlantic City’s Jewish community. It also foreshadows, through refugee Anna’s plight, the coming catastrophe of the Holocaust ... Beanland loosely based the novel on the story of her great-great-aunt Florence, who, like Florence Adler, was a competitive swimmer who drowned off the coast of Atlantic City. It’s a worthy tribute and a satisfying historical family drama.
Beanland beautifully handles the depiction of loss and rebuilding life without a loved one, describing moments that are by turns painful and moving ... The thick emotional tension will please fans of character-driven historicals.
Remarkably, the plot feels coherent despite the seven points of view, but the novel falters thematically; it could have been a sensitive exploration of the sometimes-absurd lengths we'll go to protect the people we love, but it turns into a diffuse attempt to do too much. The novel's events take place in the shadow of the approaching Holocaust, but the author fails to engage meaningfully with it and so it reads like an afterthought. Perhaps Beanland thought writing a story about Jews set in the 1930s that doesn't deal with that tragedy would be frivolous or insensitive, but the result of her half-baked approach is an 'add-Holocaust-and-stir' effect that lacks emotional verisimilitude. In addition, some of the Jewish details in the novel are historically dubious if not incorrect ... the particularity of the setting may nonetheless be enough to buoy it, particularly for those interested in little-known pieces of American Jewish culture.