Swimming with Ghosts

Michelle Brafman

Keylight Books, 2023

Agent: Jill Marr

From the acclaimed author of Washing the Dead and Bertrand Court comes a satirical and chilling, yet deeply-sensitive, tale that captures the ethos and ruin of children’s competitive swimming, where parents must face the haunting spirits of their own tumultuous upbringings or risk losing their way and—in turn—themselves.

It’s June 2012. The magical and slightly cultish River Run swim club is alive with the spirit of fun competition when a perfect storm brews between team moms and best friends, Gillian Cloud and Kristy Weinstein. The ghost of family addiction has turned up, looming over their carefully planned pasta parties, tie-dye nights, and pep rallies, forcing them to face their unresolved childhood trauma.

Gillian responds by trying to control everyone around her, while Kristy relapses into her dangerous addiction to love. Real sparks fly on the night of the derecho—a freak land hurricane—which sweeps through Northern Virginia, knocking out power for days. The storm ignites a tinder box of secrets, leaving Gillian and Kristy alone in the hot dark—their shame their only company.

At times humorous and devastating, Swimming with Ghosts is a hauntingly dark, yet uniquely tender story of the various entrapments of addiction and lingering trauma, and what it takes to overcome our hidden legacies of disgrace and discover a once unimaginable freedom made possible by confronting life’s greatest storms with the people closest to us.


“I really enjoyed Swimming with Ghosts, for the excellent characters, unusual plot inside the world of local competitive swimming, the fine writing, and the frequent insights and humor. I raced right through it.” —Anne Lamott


“Lurking beneath the seemingly mundane surface of swim clubs and pasta parties and petty squabbles are dark secrets. Best friends who have much to hide, marriages that are not what they seem. In this page-turner of a tale, Michelle Brafman leads the reader into the deeper waters of deception, loss, and self-destructive obsession. This is a story that creeps up on you and then holds fast. It will stay with me for a long time to come.” —Mary Morris, author of The Jazz Palace and Gateway to the Moon


“Swimming with Ghosts dives into the world of children’s competitive swimming with sharp observations and an abundance of empathy. I was thrilled to spend time at the picture-perfect River Run swim club, caught in the swirl of family secrets and friendship. Moving perfectly between humor and darkness, Michelle Brafman delivers a delicious and compelling book about jealousy, addiction, and legacy.” —Jennifer Close, bestselling author of Girls in White Dresses and Marrying the Ketchups


“Who knows when a perfect life might be ripped out by the roots? It’s summer and as closest friendships go under and family secrets surface, a storm may be coming for Gillian Cloud and her picture-perfect swim club community. Michelle Brafman is such a sharp observer of suburban life and Gillian, and #bestie Kristy, are a deliciously written, female friendship. So compelling, I snuck out of bed at night to finish it. Dive in!” —Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Summer Before the War


“Beneath the surface of Michelle Brafman’s propulsive Swimming with Ghosts, with its delightful humor and sharp observations of suburban mores, swirl dark undercurrents. Hidden as the tensions whitewashed in the Facebook posts of stalwart Gillian Cloud and the intergenerational betrayals lurking behind the potlucks and luaus she organizes at the community swimming club, riptides threaten two families. With open eyes and extraordinary compassion, Brafman tackles the shame of love addiction, illuminating its links to other addictions and what true recovery entails.” —Lisa Gornick, author of The Peacock Feast and Louisa Meets Bear


"I devoured Michelle Brafman’s latest book Swimming with Ghosts in a single day, tearing through one unputdownable chapter to the next. A perfect book club pick, Brafman writes with loving sensitivity and humor about two close friends, their families, and the secrets that join them together."  -- Bethany Ball, author of The Pessimists and What to Do About the Solomons 


"Swimmers and readers rejoice! Michelle Brafman’s Swimming with Ghosts is proof that the most important events in life happen at the pool. Fast-paced and frequently hilarious, we unsuspectingly float on the novel’s wry, quirky humor until we’re suddenly over deep water, gazing into the depths of our need for purpose, friendship, and love. Anyone heading to a pool or beach this summer should have a copy of Swimming with Ghosts in their swim bag."  - David McGlynn, author of A Door in the Ocean 


Swimming with Ghosts is a story about ripple effects and the lies we tell ourselves in our most valiant, human, futile attempts to escape our own histories. This is my favorite kind of novel: a page-turner about love and secrets, honor and betrayal, and all the messiness of families and legacies. -- Lauren Fox, NYT bestselling author of Send for Me