Maldon is an adjunct literature instructor at a prestigious East Coast university, with a deteriorating heart condition and no insurance. She finds herself caught between the demands of her job and the needs of her body, triggering economic and emotional strains that cause her to fantasize about taking her own life. But Maldon, who has pledged to safeguard her mother ever since their arrival in the US on a refugee ship from postwar Vietnam, has vowed to forgo suicide for as long as her mother is living.
In time, her heart worsens rapidly, and she ventures cross-country to a place called Cloud for the operation that may save her life. In Cloud, Maldon is joined by old friend planet Neptune, who is hermaphroditic, peculiar, and has agreed to accompany Maldon through the operation.
Swimming with Dead Stars is a hallucinatory meditation on the stars and planets, the precariousness of our existence, the cruel inequities of labor and healthcare, chickens and ice cream, and the grace that comes from enduring the physical and psychic pain wrought by pernicious social forces that enslave us all.