Published by Tin House Books on September 1st 2015
Buy from IndieBound
In 1992, global issues like the AIDS epidemic dominate the newsstands as fifteen-year-old Julie scans swimming magazines for information on her brother, Jordan. Once a swimming superstar headed for the Olympics, Jordan’s mysterious move to Berlin has left Julie desperate to see his next step. Though her fascination with the magazines has little to do with swimming itself, when Alexis, the girls’ team captain, asks Julie to join the school’s team, she finds herself drawn to both Alexis and the sport.
It’s easy to write off a book like Dryland for lacking plot, but doing so misses how wisely Sara Jaffe, of Erase Errata fame, has written a novel that digs into the many elements of being a teenager, starting with the mundane—the repetition of class and practice, the limited options for going out. At the same time, the emotions are off the charts, and captured perfectly. Jaffe’s prose is sparse and meandering, like it’s pulled from the daily notations of a diary, but comes together in a way that highlights the beauty of awkward adolescence.
“I’d had to rewind to make sure I heard it right—a curse in a REM song? He said fuck off or fuck all, it was impossible to tell, and it came after a junk-box list of lyrics, words like rusted parts in a yard. Their shapes were specific but who could tell what to use them for? The song scooped something out of me. It was listening to me and watching me in ways it shouldn’t. He sang our clothes don’t fit us right. I wanted to know about Alexis and her swim team sweatshirt, how she got it to fit her the way it did, how it showed and hid her body beneath it. It was a perfect sweatshirt.”
Dryland touches on so much—sexuality, family, identity—without feeling overdone and, more importantly, without seeking solid answers for every question it raises. Much like real life, Sara Jaffe leaves room for the unknown, but spotlights the importance of the journey.