First let’s get it over with that the very first thing that comes to mind when I (and most of you over the age of 35) hear the word “Barracuda” is of course, Heart’s classic rock single. It’s one of my favorite rock anthems, and I think Annie and Nancy are amazing.
He asked the water to lift him, to carry him, to avenge him. He made his muscles shape his fury, made every stroke declare his hate. And the water obeyed; the water would give him his revenge. No one could beat him, no one came close.
His whole life, Danny Kelly’s only wanted one thing: to win Olympic gold. Everything he’s ever done-every thought, every dream, every action-takes him closer to that moment of glory, of vindication, when the world will see him for what he is: the fastest, the strongest and the best. His life has been a preparation for that moment.
His parents struggle to send him to the most prestigious private school with the finest swimming program; Danny loathes it there and is bullied and shunned as an outsider, but his coach is the best and knows Danny is, too, better than all those rich boys, those pretenders. Danny’s win-at-all-cost ferocity gradually wins favour with the coolest boys-he’s Barracuda, he’s the psycho, he’s everything they want to be but don’t have the guts to get there. He’s going to show them all.
He would be first, everything would be alright when he came first, all would be put back in place. When he thought of being the best, only then did he feel calm.
Should we teach our children to win, or should we teach them to live? How do we make and remake our lives? Can we atone for our past? Can we overcome shame? And what does it mean to be a good person?
A searing and provocative novel by the acclaimed author of the international bestseller The Slap, Barracuda is an unflinching look at modern Australia, at our hopes and dreams, our friendships, and our families. It is about class and sport and politics and migration and education. It contains everything a person is: family and friendship and love and work, the identities we inhabit and discard, the means by which we fill the holes at our centre. Barracuda is brutal, tender and blazingly brilliant; everything we have come to expect from this fearless vivisector of our lives and world.
This is an intense book about a lot of issues: competition, socioeconomic class, family, shame, immigration, and as everyone keeps noting, modern Australia. I could have written a different piece about every theme in the book, but I’m taking the easy way out and discussing three issues that keep coming up in my own life as a mother in the diverse but mostly affluent Washington D.C. suburbs: class and sports.
Swimming seems like it would be an equal-opportunity sport, right? All you need is a swimsuit and a pool — how hard could that be… but the truth is that depending on where you live, swimming can be an elite sport for the privileged. Growing up in Miami (which, like Australia, is full of serious swimmers, divers, and surfers), I never personally thought about swimming as a sport; it was a pastime, and besides, every other person had their own pool, but no one was actually racing in them or even doing laps. Pools were for lounging or throwing parties!
Fast forward to being a mom of three in the DC area, and (nearly) EVERYONE we know belongs to a summer pool club. These aren’t all hoity toity country clubs; they’re just pool clubs, or maybe pool and tennis clubs. My older two kids swim for our summer team, and it’s intense. It’s a lot of fun, but there is definitely pressure to win for the team, and then in the winter, there’s pressure to pay for year-round swimming lessons/conditioning/competitions. I have to admit that we do this, but we do it so our kids can compete well, not so they can be the best.
We don’t expect our kids to be the best, to be ruthless Barracudas in the water. We went them to love swimming for the team, and we want them to have the correct technique and instruction. But I’m just in awe that my kids are so much better at swimming than my husband and I are, so I’m happy whenever they do their best. Their best may not be THE best, and that’s really, really fine with me. I don’t want the pressure to weigh on them or to crush them or to confuse them. I want them to love sports and have a healthy competitive spirit, but not to live and die by the win.