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'The Night Swim' Reviewed: A Story Of Anything But A Perfect Little Beach Town


The past is never dead. It's not even past. Those words were written by William Faulkner in his book "Requiem For A Nun." They might as well have been written for or about a very different book, the new thriller "The Night Swim." It's set in a perfect little beach town that turns out to be anything but perfect. The plot centers on a rape trial currently unfolding, also on a death, maybe a murder from 25 years before and whether the two possible crimes might possibly be linked. Megan Goldin wrote "The Night Swim" and joins us now. Megan Goldin, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MEGAN GOLDIN: Thank you. It's great to be here.

KELLY: So I want you to introduce us to - there's four women at the center of your story, your protagonist and then three women who she becomes drawn to investigating what happened to them. Would you just lay out for us who Rachel and Kelly and Hannah and Jenny are in your story?

GOLDIN: Sure. So Rachel is a podcaster. She's exceptionally well known, much like "Serial." And she's gone to this town to cover a rape trial that's tearing the town apart. And while she's there, she gets pulled into investigating the mysterious drowning of another girl 25 years earlier. That girl is Jenny. And Jenny was a teenager whose death was attributed to drowning, never really investigated when she went through some traumatic time as a teenager in the town. And her sister, who left as a child and has these memories, vague memories, of what happened that summer, is the one who's asking Rachel to investigate her sister's death because she believes that the truth never came out and that her death was covered up. And so Rachel's effectively doing two things. She's covering a rape trial, and she is also investigating Jenny's death. And the rape trial involves a girl called Kelly, who's also a teenager, who is accusing the town's golden boy of raping her. And a lot of people in the town are very angry with her because they wonder whether it really was rape. And they also feel like she's destroying his life.

KELLY: I mean, it's interesting the way you write it because there's a lot of overlap - without giving anything away - a lot of overlap between these two cases, evidence in both cases of sexual assault. But they belong to different classes in this town. What was your intent by linking these two cases?

GOLDIN: I don't know what my conscious intent was because I write in a very fluid way and very organically. But I think what I was trying to show was that there are so many parallels between these types of cases, and they repeat themselves over and over again throughout history, effectively.

KELLY: Explain. What do you mean?

GOLDIN: In terms of the way that they were both marginalized due to sexual assault. They were marginalized socially - you know, there was a lot of victim blaming directed at both of them - and in terms of the fact that people were angry at them for making accusations or suffering what they suffered. And, I mean, I guess the one big change was that in Kelly's case 25 years later, it goes to trial, and it's properly investigated. But even then, she gets - goes through a really bad time, both at school and within the town. Her parents can't really go out and socialize because people are angry at them or people talk about them and gossip about them. So there are a lot of parallels between what they have gone through. And I think that happens to a lot of women who are sexually assaulted and cases where it does go to trial. And we've seen many prominent cases in the news where these sort of things happen as well.

KELLY: I mean, it is interesting. By spacing these two crimes two decades apart, you're also exploring how attitudes toward consent and rape and assault have changed over time - hopefully changed over time.

GOLDIN: Yeah. There's an improvement. I mean, maybe part of it is because Kelly is from a prominent family. But there is an improvement in the way that people treat them and treat their cases. But there's still a lot of room for improvement in Kelly's case as well. And at least in her case, it was properly investigated, and there was a proper - you know, she had the opportunity to get some level of justice, which didn't happen with Jenny.

KELLY: You know, to circle back to Faulkner and the idea of the past is never dead, it seems like one question your posing, without giving too much away, is that in a small town, even a fictional small town where everybody knows everybody, you know, can you ever really escape the past? Is that something you were playing with?

GOLDIN: Yeah. And Jenny, the girl who died two decades or so earlier, she had a reputation in the town. And even, you know, 25 years later when Rachel, the podcaster, comes and starts asking questions about her, people remember Jenny by her bad reputation. And even in death, she can't shake it off until, I guess, Rachel uncovers the truth. And then people have sort of a new way of appraising her. But her sort of reputation lived with her in death. And I think that does happen a lot.

KELLY: Well, that is Megan Goldin, author of "The Night Swim," which I enjoyed sitting on a beach this summer. Thank you so much for writing it and for taking the time to talk to us about it.

GOLDIN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.