Rachel Beanland’s Florence Adler Swims Forever by Heather Routh

$25.99; 306 pages
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1-9821-3246-0




Rachel Beanland’s Florence Adler Swims Forever
by Heather Routh

Rachel Beanland’s debut novel is based on a real-life family story, passed down through generations. It explores the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect one daughter while silently suffering the loss of another. In Atlantic City in 1934, Joseph and Esther Adler’s youngest daughter, Florence, drowns while training to swim the English Channel. Eldest daughter, Fannie, is on strict hospital bedrest due to a high-risk pregnancy. Fearing that the news could cause Fannie to lose the baby, after losing one the year before, Esther decides to keep the tragedy from her for the remainder of the pregnancy—the entire summer. 

This becomes more problematic than Esther could have guessed. The news must be kept out of the paper, as well as their close-knit Jewish community, and the doctor and hospital staff are sworn to secrecy in order to minimize the risk of Fannie finding out from someone outside the family. This leaves the family without a support system to help them grieve. Soon they become deeply entwined in a web of complicated lies to cover Florence’s absence. Although this is done from a place of love, the effect isolates Fannie further. Everyone must guard what they say. It becomes easiest to avoid visits with her altogether, including the nurses on her ward, making only the necessary daily rounds but no longer staying to chat the way they once had. Her husband, Isaac, finds it a convenient excuse to visit only a few days a week and very briefly. Poor little 7-year-old daughter, Gussie, is kept away from her mother during a most confusing time.

I was most intrigued by the idea of writing a historical fiction piece where so much time had passed since the actual event, providing time to erode facts as well as open the possibility for exaggeration of elements due to repeated retelling. How does one find balance between preserving the family memory and building a compelling story? Beanland answers this by providing a thought-provoking tale filled with complicated and beautifully flawed characters. According to the author, a few characters are composites of real family members, while others never existed outside the author’s imagination. Yet they all come to life in the book, drawing the reader into tangled relationships and family drama.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view, weaving in their story, their connection with Florence, and how they are coping with her death individually. We learn a lot about Florence through their eyes. It also provides a nice comparison between the characters, such as Stuart’s desire to prove his differences from his father—he is unwilling to use his family name as a leg up in life, preferring to work hard to achieve his own success. On the other hand, Isaac, who comes from humble beginnings, prefers to scheme and plot to get ahead, most often to the detriment of those closest to him. He is always looking for the next big thing that will provide the most reward with the least amount of effort. Although Esther is a devoted wife and mother, she is extremely judgmental, often unwilling to uncover the entire story before misjudging those around her. Many of her decisions seem selfish and rash. Meanwhile, her husband Joseph is much more level-headed and willing to help anyone that might need it. Sisters Fannie and Florence are separated by more than just age, but also by their life goals and dreams, each unable to see the value in the other’s choices. 

Beanland has done a remarkable job recreating 1930s Atlantic City for readers—immersing us in wonderful detail of the lifeguard stations, the boardwalk with the bizarre Couney’s incubator exhibition, and the family-owned beach hotels—as well as the growing bureaucratic struggle American Jews undertook to help their European family and friends emigrate from Nazi Germany while they could. One can almost feel the hot, muggy coastal climate and cramped living conditions adding to the tension and frustrations the family is experiencing.

Florence Adler Swims Forever is a well-written, poignant historical fiction from a gifted storyteller exploring a family’s love and sacrifice in an uncertain time. It is well worth the read.


Heather Routh is a Marketing and Advertising Copywriter and Social Media Strategist. She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her three sons and three dogs, and is obsessed with 70s rock albums, classic muscle cars, and murder mysteries. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada University.

We May Not Have To Walk Alone: A Response to Kimberly Ann Priest’s Still Life by Sara Paye

Copyright © November 2020
$12, 33 pages
PANK Books
ISBN is not yet available





We May Not Have To Walk Alone: A Response to Kimberly Ann Priest’s Still Life
by Sara Paye 

Readers of Kimberly Ann Priest’s Still Life will walk through (not over, around, or under) victimhood to pedophilia. The cover image warns, while the yellow circle in its upper left-hand invites. The setting must be winter, for bare trees enshroud a black and white photograph of a one-story house, with a porch and gravel lot in front. Our narrator creates poetry from the point of view of someone in a small, quiet town, where nothing needs saying, where silence wins. 

Throughout Still Life, Priest outlines and draws images that captivate the imagination, so the reader seeks to turn through pages as a participant, to walk though scenes with caution and curiosity. She writes, “their fingers probing like dental tools inside a timid orifice” (12), and instantly the reader is in an uncomfortable dental seat, violated, made to believe it is all so necessary. A lie becomes rote, supposedly “for good.” The reader will have the opportunity to come to these profound conclusions through Priest’s gracious prose-like poems.  

From the first page, Priest shows specific and personal scenes describing her pedophile as master of some small space: the humid bathroom, the kitchen while making breakfast, or perhaps the front lawn, scattered with toys. In my pedophile is performance ready, the pedophile carefully corrects an analog clock, and Priest provides a striking image.

he reshapes the face of the clock… the 0 in 10 sucking in its sides to impress his audience as he squeezes his hand around the 6 / reaches for a 5 / changes his mind // asks for a 4 / drinks soda water out of a cup // the 3 taking a deep breath / noticing the outline of the 1 (Priest 15)

As the final line reads, “noticing the outline of the 1,” there is a slight innuendo or associative thought that allows the reader to almost become triangulated as an involved character in the vignette, helpless to protect. 

A poem which reflects the lasting pain of sexual assault is my pedophile times all my future orgasms

if he says we have time it is the shape of the glass // how it is blown with air // how the glassblower covers its mouth and handles its bulb // how light is a word for knowledge / weight / and touch // how all are invisible // and if I believe it is time it is the bubble / the oxygenated seed (Priest 16)

Sexual trauma which takes place years ago informs the present and future. As readers lament, Priest’s writing consoles. For some readers, their left hip will remember trauma better than the conscious mind. Knowing that we are not alone in this phenomenon is a solace. When reading my pedophile dates all my future partners, we may consider how walking around unseen but longing for visibility is suddenly as perplexing as it is pivotal to Priest’s work. 

the bourgeois matter of a latte / smiling emoji / gleaming bright teeth // how it makes a horror of laughter / its simpering witnesses texting themselves clean // the excuse of himself in the bathroom / the break room / the Ramen noodle joint near the corner of Mac and Albert streets (Priest 22)

There is a sense that everyday things like latte foam or the ability to walk to a favorite restaurant are experienced now as memory-tainted privileges, and the reader is aware that freedom is not the reality for everyone. When past trauma influences memory, psychological trappings may keep us from walking forward. 

Priest offers a direct poetic style in her phrasing that is accessible and reads with fluidity. Her use of shorter and longer lines coupled with forward slashes or double-forward slashes helps the reader pace and process the content as seen here in the first poem presented in the chapbook, my pedophile is obsessed with details, as well as with others.

the hard wood floors / he says / are essential // having nothing to do with my hands or my feet / or how they are connected to my body // or how he wants the right to space everything symmetrically // rearrange a life in the most appropriate way (Priest 3)

The imagery and choice of subject are tactile, sensory, and bring the reader right into the present moment with the narrator, her acute observations, and her questions. A perfect example of this is in my pedophile feels the need to dance

wraps himself in yards of cellophane / shoots himself full of tiny white spines // from where? // unknown // but this is too much to juggle // too much to jugular / gesticulate / ejaculate / believe // so porcupines are freed and this seems to satisfy the audience / disinterested (Priest 21)

Priest expresses the title’s literal concept with phrases like “a couch fainting with love” (10). The inanimate object takes on the emotion and ability of a person. If inanimate objects embody emotion, as is often the perceived result of trauma, then perhaps those bodies who inflict trauma may too be stilled or frozen by way of always being on their victims’ minds—perhaps they become Still Life. As with the dance, so with the clock, and Priest has a masterful way of describing lewd acts juxtaposed with daily living experiences so that the poetry is, for the most part, in the allusion. Priest’s poetry eases the reader into understanding that they are not alone. There is solidarity in knowing how thoughtful and precise language may free us from memory-frozen places. 


Sara Paye (she/they) of Las Vegas, Nevada, is an awarded writer and Creative Writing MFA candidate at Sierra Nevada University. Paye’s published works are in Funicular MagazineThe Stay Project, and The Ice Colony. See website at sarapaye.com.

Interview with Melissa Matthewson

Melissa Matthewson is an author who does not shy away from topics that are difficult to write about, and her first book, Tracing the Desire Line, a memoir in essays, is a testament to that fact. Matthewson’s work is the intersection of parts of her life: her interest in nature and the environment—she holds two degrees in Environmental Sciences—finding its way into her work as she writes about life on the farm that she shared with her husband and children, and her study of literary craft—she earned her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts—developing a lyrical, compelling, and risky story about a marriage and family and life from which she wanted more.  

After recently reading Tracing the Desire Line (Split Lip Press, 2019) I had the good fortune to get to speak with Matthewson about her book, which has just recently celebrated one year in publication. Matthewson is friendly and open, and her long curly hair blew in the breeze of the Oregon outdoors as we FaceTimed, each of us with a glass of wine in hand. She was generous with her time and thoughtful in her answers as I asked about the writing and publishing of her book.

The memoir explores many roles of the narrator’s life, but at the core of the story is the decision that Matthewson and her husband make to challenge traditional boundaries and open their marriage. I asked Matthewson about publicly sharing this intimate story, and she acknowledged  that yes, it was difficult to expose vulnerable parts of her life, especially having young children (they have not read her book yet, but they have been at a few of her readings where she carefully selected parts about them to share with her audience). She told me that when her children are old enough to understand relationships and marriage that she will encourage them to read the book.

Matthewson also indicated that writing about very personal topics does not come without a cost: she and her mother did not speak for several months after the book’s release, as her mother’s views on marriage and sexuality did not line up with her own. Over time, though, they have been able to work through their differences. I asked about other family members’ reactions to the book:  her in-laws told her it was a beautiful book and reading the memoir made her husband cry. He, of course, had read excerpts along the way, and several essays from the book had been published previously, but he found the entirety of the book quite moving.

No spoilers here, but I will share that Tracing the Desire Line does not answer every question a reader might have about Matthewson’s marital journey. I wondered if at her readings audience members asked about “what happened next”. She told me that sometimes she’d avoid answering a question if it strayed from the confines of the book, but that mostly the audience was connected to the material she shared and that felt fulfilling.  

Matthewson began writing essays about her life as she pursued her MFA, and she said that it took her seven years to find what she felt was the narrative through-line of her collection of work. As Matthewson compiled her work, she indicated that she had to fill in gaps where a reader might not follow the story and also that each essay can stand alone, but together, as a whole, the book makes a story.

After two years of restructuring what she had written, Matthewson found that because the structure of her book was nonlinear, fragmented, and experimental, it was a hard sell for big publishers. So she submitted her work to university and small presses. There were two publishers who wanted to buy it, and she decided to go with Split Lip Press.

She chose this smaller independent press for two reasons: they tend to work with first-time authors, and the editor she worked with helped her immensely. But also, Matthewson liked what the press focuses on: boundary-breaking prose books, work that questions truth, and writing that reinterprets what we know. Because Tracing the Desire Line pushes boundaries of what a marriage “should” look like and seeks to redefine a woman’s role as wife and mother, it makes sense that Split Lip was the right fit for her.

I asked if Matthewson has begun her next book, and if so, where she finds her inspiration for writing. She told me that she is very connected to nature and tries to walk about two hours a day.  She also shared that when she is feeling stuck, she reads or watches films to take in stories, and also that music is a huge source of inspiration for her. Despite writing about her own life, Matthewson told me that she has always been able to separate herself a little from the art, even in the crafting of it, which helps.  

As our conversation wound down, we laughed that she has a running joke with people in her life that “everything is on the table to write about”. As my last question, I wondered if her next book would be equally risky. She smiled and said, “Well…it’s exploring love, sexuality, and nature…so yes!”


PamAndersonAfter 30 years of helping young people with their writing as a high school English teacher, Pam Anderson retired and decided to finally dedicate energy to her own work. She is presently pursuing her MFA in creative nonfiction at Sierra Nevada University. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Manifest-Station, Bookends Review, and Chicago Review of Books.