Austin's Zilker Park neighborhood is a wonderland of greenbelt trails, live music, and moms who drink a few too many margaritas. Whitney, Annette, and Liza have grown thick as thieves as they have raised their children together for fifteen years, believing that they can shelter them their children from an increasingly dangerous world. Their friendship is unbreakable—as safe as the neighborhood where they've raised their sweet little boys.
Or so they think.
A polyphonic story, told in the voices of three mothers, with chapters handed over to their teenage sons ... Sly humor and blithe musings...aside, these are some seriously frightened women; and Ward, with her keen eye for detail and a terrific sense of exactly when to deliver a punchline, knows her characters well ... Ward tackles many of the same complex and timely issues she has written about in her previous work — immigration, illness and infertility...alcoholism, suicide, guilt and family trauma...loneliness and estrangement ... She allows her characters to be petty and myopic, to make the wrong choices again and again, to fail badly, then dust themselves off and try again. Her people are resilient, with a deep longing to do better — particularly for their children ... Still, I wished some of these characters struggled a bit more to make sense of what it means to be in the world that hovers around the edges of Barton Hills, not only as mothers and wives, but as citizens ... What a gift it would have been to Ward’s characters, and the readers who love them, to have allowed at least one or two of these women to see that the real danger is not whether their boys are, or will be, safe ... The real danger to these characters is the face they encounter every morning in the mirror, their complicity in the mounting horrors beyond the wondrous swimming holes and hiking trails of their neighborhood.
Ward balances a police procedural with domestic suspense, and by alternating narrators among the women, their sons, and Salvatore, she keeps the focus on the emotional toll the crime takes on everyone, while a chorus of Austin mommies add humorous commentary. Touching on issues like class, gentrification, and opioid abuse, The Lifeguards is a rich piece of relationship fiction and a summer thriller in one.
An arresting story ... Ward does a good job exploring her characters and keeping the reader guessing, though some of the twists and coincidences border on forced. Still, like a cool lake on a hot day, this story hits the spot.