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BOOK | Learn to Swim 

Coming to appreciate friendship through the small details

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There's something instantly familiar to be found, at least for Northwest folks of a certain age, in Joseph Edwin Haeger's debut book Learn to Swim. It feels like you're reading about your own childhood. The kids seem like your friends, and the big brother does the sort of awful things big brothers are wont to do.

The Spokane author calls the book a work of "experimental nonfiction" in that the stories he presents are taken directly from his life, but all the names and places are stripped out. The boy with the mole on his face is just the Boy With the Mole on His Face, and a sister is just Sister.

It's an odd and almost overly simplistic approach at first, but then it becomes seductively engaging, as is the brisk pace at which you read the relatively few lines of prose per page that make up the vignettes through which we experience the friends' suburban youth. It's just a story about two kids trying to grow up the best they can, and you can probably relate to that.

"There's a universality to it. When you get together with old friends, you're not talking about huge moments, but rather the smaller, more mundane events," says Haeger, 29, a former movie theater manager who now stays home with his 2½-year-old son, while also finding time to write.

Learn to Swim focuses on the narrator's relationship with his best friend. In fact, it was that friend's death about seven years ago that influenced Haeger to begin the book, at first just to preserve the childhood companion's memory but maybe, more subconsciously, as a form of therapy.

"I was terrified of forgetting him," says Haeger, who would scribble down a memory on a napkin while at work and eventually assembled the anecdotes into the narrative that was finally published by University of Hell Press late last year.

"I wanted people to know about what a special person he was, but also I wanted to make the point that friendship is universal," says Haeger. "You should cherish your friendships, as dorky as that sounds."

Joseph Edwin Haeger will sign copies of Learn to Swim at Auntie's Bookstore (402 W. Main) on Sat, March 5, from 1 to 3 pm.

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