Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: "How to Breathe Underwater" by Julie Orringer

How to Breathe Underwater, the debut short story collection of author Julie Orringer, is a rather un-dynamic book but one that is still quite satisfying. A few years ago, I picked up her epic 700 page debut novel The Invisible Bridge and found myself enjoying it more than I thought I was going to for yet another novel about the Holocaust, and I find that same keen sense of the interior mind here in these stories as I did in said novel. But that is where the similarities end with these two books, since they are both quite different. Gone from these stories are the rich narratives that made The Invisible Bridge so compelling, instead these stories are quieter, brooding and filled with an unspoken sense of menace that rob them of their excitement, but provide a lot of hidden details to chew on after finishing them. While The Invisible Bridge is a book from another time period, How to Breathe Underwater is something fresh and new, and reminded me many times of the work of Amelia Gray and Lindsay Hunter, something I didn’t expect. A few of my favorite stories here are “Stars of the Motown Shining Bright” which is about two friends who are both attracted to the same man (the narrator has slept with him, while her friend wants to marry him), whose friendship changes dramatically over one night at a skating rink in Detroit) “Stations of the Cross” about a Jewish girl’s painful memory of bullying a boy at her friends First Communion, which rushes back to her when she reads that he died in Iraq. But my favorite one is the shortest, “Note to a Sixth-Grade Self” where someone recounts what they would have done differently as an adolescent. Most of these stories don’t pack a punch, and tend to end right when the most interesting part occurs. But these are well-written melancholic stories that are interesting, relevant and relatable.

Rating: 4/5

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