Swim for Your Life


140 pages
ISBN 0-88750-546-5






Reviewed by Nicholas Pashley

Nicholas Pashley was a bookseller and a freelance writer and editor in Toronto.


Don Bailey, bank robber turned writer, has produced a new and satisfying collection of interlocking stories about several months in the life of a man and his family. Wayne Maitland, in his forties, writer of horror films, has reached a low point in his life. His young second wife has recently died of cancer, and Wayne, left alone with a seven-year-old son, has quite fairly been accused of moping. Things change in a hurry when first his father then his daughter arrive on his doorstep.

Thomas Maitland, Wayne’s obstreperous and philandering father, has checked himself out of the cancer ward, preferring to live with the son he has long ignored. Close on Thomas’s heels is Gloria, single, eighteen, pregnant, and fresh from her third flirtation with suicide. Wayne has never been much of a father to Gloria, the product of his first marriage; he is impatient with her, she intimidated by him.

Despite Wayne’s (and the reader’s) misgivings, it is this unlikely new ménage that brings Wayne back into the land of the living, and it is this process that lies at the heart of these stories. “You know,” Gloria tells Wayne, “you sort of act like your life is over.” Caring for Thomas and Gloria (and being cared for by them in return) and the prospect of becoming a grandfather renew Wayne’s interest in the present and the future, an interest aided by his meeting with a young marathon swimmer in training to swim Lake Ontario. One story ends with the observation, “It may be late in the game but there are still possibilities.”

If the prose is occasionally a trifle stiff and events sometimes implausible (things do tend to happen just a bit too conveniently), the reader is eventually won over by Bailey’s able storytelling. The family bonds that bring his characters together are at the centre of these stories, and Bailey’s sensitive handling makes them ultimately credible and enjoyable.


Bailey, Don, “Swim for Your Life,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37332.