The novel explores Conrad’s anxiety about the swim team and his conflict with his friends on a deeper level, as the reader is actively engaged with Conrad’s point of view. For example, as Conrad watches swimming practice and fears getting back into the pool, he repeats the mantra, ‘‘Doesn’t matter doesn’t matter I didn’t really want to swim.’’ Though the viewer sees that reaction in the film, the novel allows a glimpse directly inside Conrad’s mind.
The novel also provides more dimension to Calvin’s feelings. When Calvin runs into Lazenby’s mother Carole and asks her to have lunch with him, the reader understands how Buck’s death has made Calvin feel as if nothing is the same as it was before the tragedy: ‘‘because she looks so real and so alive, he is absurdly glad to see her; asks her to go to lunch with him on the spot.’’ Calvin longs to connect physically and emotionally with someone.
Family and Budding Romance
The tension between Beth and Conrad comes to a head in a scene involving Conrad, Calvin, Beth, and Beth’s parents. Conrad’s grandmother is taking photos of Conrad, Calvin, and Beth. When Calvin asks to snap a picture of Conrad and Beth, she tries to avoid having her picture taken with her son by saying she will take the pictures. Conrad lashes out and tells Calvin to ‘‘give her the goddamn camera.’’ Beth later speaks to her mother about Conrad, wondering out loud if they should send him to boarding school.
After choir practice, Conrad catches up to Jeannine in the hall, where she compliments his singing. They walk together, talking about music. After seeing her to the bus, Conrad walks home elated. When he gets home, he calls Karen, but talks to her mother who says Karen is not home. Conrad looks through the phone book for Jeannine’s number, but has difficulty mustering the nerve to make the call. When he finally does, the conversation is a bit shaky, but she accepts when he asks her out on a date.
While the film portrays the family tension in more straightforward and simple manner, the novel layers internal and external conflicts and builds the plot along with the character development. For example, the novel shows Conrad beginning to heal as he fills his time with studies, birdwatching at the park, and Christmas shopping for his family. He makes a ‘‘Life List’’ and sets goals. In a session with Berger, Conrad confesses that he hasn’t told his father about quitting swimming because he doesn’t want him to worry. He continues to talk about his lack of connection with his mother. Berger encourages Conrad to allow himself to feel bad and to stop thinking so much. Conrad runs into Jeannine after school and invites her to have a drink with him. Their date boosts his self-esteem. On the way home, a display window prompts him to remember a skiing trip he took with Buck.
Christmas and Forgiveness, Flashback and Family Therapy
Calvin and Conrad bring home a Christmas tree but Beth arrives home angry after hearing from a friend that Conrad quit the swim team. Calvin asks why Conrad did not tell them. Conrad says that ‘‘the only reason she cares is because someone else knew about it first.’’ After Beth leaves the room, Conrad confesses his resentment that his mother did not visit him in the hospital, telling his father that he is certain she would have visited Buck in the hospital. Conrad flees to his bedroom.
Calvin asks Beth to speak to Conrad with him, but she refuses. Calvin talks to Conrad alone. Conrad doesn’t want his father to be angry. He also confesses to Calvin that he believes Beth hates him and will never change. Conrad later tells Berger about the argument, but says he doesn’t really blame his mother because he caused the problems in her life. He describes the bloody mess in her tidy bathroom after he attempted suicide. Berger wants him to recognize his mother’s limitations and to let himself off the hook. Conrad realizes he needs to forgive himself.