Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw

The ‘Sliding Doors’ concept is not particularly new yet it takes a certain skill to pull off convincing  alternative stories for the same set of characters. Carol Anshaw does it beautifully in Aquamarine, a story that begins with Olympic swimmer Jesse Austin, seduced and consequently edged out for a gold medal by her Australian rival, Marty.

“It won’t take a scaling down of expectation to accept this defeat, but rather a substantial reconstruction of her notion of herself. And she must accomplish this in the next few minutes, before she’s out of the pool and dried off and sweatsuited and ushered smiling (the smiling is imperative, imperatively expected) up onto the staggered pedestals, positioned slightly lower than Marty.”

After leaving the pool deck at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Anshaw fast-forwards twenty-odd years to three alternative lives for Jesse. I won’t tell what they are because the joy of this slim volume is discovering them for yourself. But know that Anshaw provides light links between each story – a soap opera, tea roses, hot summer nights, a party, fast driving, a swimwear salesman – it’s enough to make you believe that any of the three stories are plausible for Jesse, without them feeling in any way repetitive.

Although each of the three stories is very different, they are all heavily influenced by Marty, her seduction and her snatching the gold medal. Each story raises questions about fate and whether our emotional scars colour our lives for evermore. I’m not a ‘dweller’ by nature (I’m more of a ‘what will be, will be’ and ‘leave the past in the past’ person) but it did have me thinking about pivotal moments* that may have changed the course of my life so far.

“If she is alone and quiet and the phone rings, it explodes inside her like a starter’s pistol. For almost her whole life, ringing phones, mail carrier’s sacks, telegram offices, have held too much promise, elevated her expectations in a way she can’t account for. She can’t say what the call is that she’s waiting for, what is in the letter.”

3/5 It’s a terrific “What if….?” story.

It’s all about American Southern food in Aquamarine – I’ve picked tamale pie because I’d never heard of such a thing until reading this book. Try this one from Brown Eyed Baker.


* There were three – a relationship ended; a career decision; a house not bought.

2 responses

  1. The whole idea of fate versus free choice, & how many decisions we take that change the course of things is really intriguing, to write three versions is quite a skill. Tamale pie sounds good – I might give it a try!

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