The stories in How to Breathe Underwater, Julie Orringer's debut collection, swim with tragedies both commonplace and horrific. A fall from a treehouse, an ailing mother, a near-drowning, a premature baby, a gun--each is the source of a young woman's coming-of-age, which we witness through Orringer's lovely, driving prose. The author possesses an uncanny ability to capture scenes and complex emotions in quick strokes. In "Pilgrims," young Ella is taken to a hippie household for Thanksgiving, where her mother joins several other cancer patients in search of natural remedies: "Some of them wore knitted hats like her mother, their skin dull-gray, their eyes purple-shaded underneath. To Ella it seemed they could be relatives of her mother's, shameful cousins recently discovered." Shame is as omnipresent as water in this collection, sadly appropriate for stories about girls becoming women. Orringer possesses an acute understanding of the many rules of girlhood, in particular the uniquely childish importance of "not telling" (for fear of becoming a traitor, and consequently, an outcast). But though her subjects may take us to the murky depths--submerging us in the cruelties girls and siblings commit against each other--Orringer's nimble writing and subtle humor allow us to breathe. --Brangien Davis
Trapped in awkward, painful situations, the young protagonists of Orringer's debut collection discover surprising reserves of wisdom in themselves. Their trials are familiar if harsh-the illness and death of parents and friends, social ostracism-but Orringer's swift, intricate evocation of individual worlds gives depth and integrity to her nine stories, set everywhere from Florence to New Orleans to Disney World. The collection's title comes from "The Isabel Fish," in which 14-year-old Maddy is learning how to scuba dive after surviving a car accident in which her older brother's girlfriend drowned. Maddy is sure her brother hates her, and when he kills the fish she is raising for a science fair project, she can hardly blame him. It is only when they go diving together that she realizes he feels as guilty as she does. In "Note to Sixth-Grade Self"-written in a telegraphic second person-the narrator details her torments at the hands of a popular girls who speaks with a stutter. The cruelty of children is also dissected in "Stations of the Cross," in which Jewish Lila Solomon attends her friend's first Communion in the Deep South, and finds herself reluctantly playing a part in an enactment of the Crucifixion. In "When She Is Old and I Am Famous," fat Mira must cope with the arrival of her supermodel cousin: "Aida. That is her terrible name. Ai-ee-duh: two cries of pain and one of stupidity." By the end of the story, Aida has won over Mira, who finally empathizes with her bids for attention. No matter how wronged they have been, Orringer's characters are open to reconciliation and even willing to save their tormentors. It is this promise of grace-and Orringer's smooth, assured storytelling-that distinguishes the collection.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
this book is small, simple, quiet, and lush in it's treatment of the youthful emotional state. in that way, it's also vibrantly beautiful on a grand scale much larger than at first... Read morePublished on May 23 2004 by Russell Marshalek
Seldom have I found a collection in which every single story is so memorable. My women's book group here in Germany discussed "Note to Sixth Grade Self" yesterday and absolutely... Read morePublished on Feb. 9 2004 by Marcy Jarvis
Stunningly written. This collection of short stories was so absorbing, I didn't put it down until I was finished with the entire book. Read morePublished on Feb. 7 2004 by Linda M. Price
After listening to Julie Orringer speak at a book reading for young writers at Stanford University, I was attracted to Orringer's love for writing and her zest for life. Read morePublished on Jan. 19 2004 by Jason Richman
I read the first story and - yeeecccchhhh - weird, hopeless, depressing and horrifying pretty much sum it up. Read morePublished on Jan. 14 2004 by Cozy Cat
I read the first story and did not feel like reading any more. Writing is decent, but be forwarned it is (unnecessarily) gory (broken neck and bones sticking out)Published on Jan. 12 2004
Orringer creates amazing worlds and has an incredible eye for detail physical and emotional - the plastic seats at disneyland and the power of a mean childhood friend. Read morePublished on Jan. 3 2004 by Casey
These are all great stories. Julie Orringer's How to Breathe Underwater is a dark, beautiful and haunting collection of short stories. Read morePublished on Jan. 1 2004 by CoffeeGurl
I loved this book. Each story is wonderfully compelling, perfectly drawn. Each has its own unique flavor and style. Read morePublished on Oct. 19 2003