In “The Night Swim,” Megan Goldin explores the male domination that exists to this day in rural America. Especially the male dominance that white, wealthy men feel endowed with, along with the usual arrogance that comes from those who feel entitled. They feel entitled to special treatment from the authorities, special treatment from shops, special treatment from their friends who may not be as entitled as they are, and special treatment from girls who, in their view, really have no right to say no to their advances.
After all, in their entitled minds, every girl should be thrilled that such a scion of society even glances in her direction. So any whim, any desire, should be instantly gratified. And Goldin isn’t satisfied with one instance of such entitlement. She provides us with two — twenty-five years apart.
Main character Rachel Krall is the voice behind a popular crime podcast. This season, she’s chosen a rape prosecution to cover instead of murder. And what she doesn’t know when she travels to the small coastal town she’s investigating is that more than one rape has been committed.
Kelly Moore, a high school student, has accused the local golden boy, Scott Blair, of rape. Blair’s father is perhaps the wealthiest man in town, and Scott is a prospective Olympic swimmer. But during a weekend off from training, he attended a high school party and decided that Kelly would be his next conquest — whether she agreed or not. But it seems that it’s going to be a he said/she said trial, and Blair’s father can afford the very best in defense lawyers.
Before she even arrives in town, Rachel receives a cryptic letter from someone who asks her to investigate a crime that happened decades ago. Hannah claims that her 16-year-old sister was murdered. But when Rachel investigates, she finds that Jenny drowned, and there was never a police investigation. Nor could she find evidence of an autopsy.
The narrative alternates between Rachel’s third person narration, her first person podcast narration, and Hannah’s first person letters to Rachel documenting her childhood and Jenny’s fate. The different points of view work well in terms of providing different perspectives, and they keep the story appealing and involving.
What resonates throughout is the simple fact that when a woman is raped, she often is victimized for a second time when her story is told. “If only” she hadn’t walked through the park or “if only” she hadn’t stayed out that late. “If only” she had called a cab, “if only” she had called 911. Goldin writes, “If every woman who felt afraid called nine-one-one, the switchboard would melt. That is what women live with every day of our lives.” Anyone who has even been sexually assaulted knows that truth.
Hannah’s sister Jenny was attacked by the privileged sons of important men in the small town. Jenny’s mother was poor and had two daughters out of wedlock after she ran away from her abusive grandfather. Hannah relates those events through sporadic letters to Rachel that are delivered in mysterious ways. One is left under her windshield wiper at a gas station, another left when her lunch bill is paid and the receipt delivered with a letter.
As we get more and more involved with the characters and the events both present and past, we know that we have all the clues, and we should be able to put the stories together. But Goldin is a master at giving clue after clue while keeping the final solution shrouded in mystery. We also begin to really care about the women in the story: Rachel, Hannah, and the long-dead Jenny. Especially the long-dead Jenny.
If you want a book that you won’t be able to put down, a book that will keep you thinking and whose characters will remain etched in your memory, pick up “The Night Swim.” It will also make you angry on behalf of every woman who has had her #MeToo moment.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s edition provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for review purposes.