on April 22, 2004
Orringer's writing style is excellent, as far as the flow and the ability to lead the reader on and on.
I'm writing because of the disturbing story titled 'Stars of Motown Shining Bright'. Although the end was not tragic afterall, and although I realize that teenagers handle guns everyday, and although the author might have felt some drive, need, or responsibility to write on the topic, I hate the idea that a young girl or boy could, by reading this story, feel justified in pointing a gun at another young girl or boy, particularly ones she/he knew very well. In my opinion, the story does not emphasize the result as much as it does the girl's fondness of the gun, to possess it, to touch it, to feel it against her skin. Sounds like I'm the biggest fan for gun control, but I'm not. I'm also not a member of the NRA.
Please, Ms. Orringer, think about reader responses to your stories.
On a more positive note: My favorite story was 'The Isabel Fish', about a brother and sister working through the aftermath of a tragedy.
on December 21, 2003
Yes, I know Julie Orringer's mentioned Lorrie Moore as an influence, but just because "Notes to Sixth Grade Self" is in second person doesn't mean she's imitating the stories of Moore's _Self-Help_ collection as someone has previously suggested. It is clearly an original vision, especially when read with Orringer's other stories which center around the same intense painful childhood (or young adulthood) situations that are so horrifying that we frequently shove them to the back of our brains.
I've followed Orringer since she published "Notes to Sixth Grade Self" in The Paris Review, and I'm glad I did. Orringer reveals childhood bluntly and with force, yet she maintains her craft story after story. The stories are character driven, but that is not to say the story plots lack action. The stories are extremely filled with tension, horror, heartache, relief. This collection is definitely haunting. Even my least favorite story in the collection ("Care") had its merits-- a definite sense of suspense and a complex protagonist. I found myself opening my mouth with surprise during this story, and it happened with more frequency in the rest of the book.
Orringer is bound to be a new voice in fiction; a first edition of this book might be a nice thing to have one day!
To those who do love Lorrie Moore, you would probably love this book. These stories aren't as humorous as Moore's; they are more subtle, which adds to that haunting quality previously mentioned. The stories are risky in the terrain they cover; the technique, however, is flawless. These are polished stories, yes. But they deliver.
on November 25, 2003
I first encountered this book shortly after it was published, perusing the 'New Fiction' shelf at my local Barnes and Noble; I was, I'm sorry to admit, drawn to it for its attractive cover, and then coaxed into opening it by the compelling blurbs - for which I've always been kind of a sucker, if they're written by the right people, though I understand some people find them insulting as a marketing tool - written by George Saunders, Ann Packer, Charles Baxter and Dan Chaon. But at the time I had a lot to read, so I didn't wind up purchasing it.
Now I have purchased it, and I'm going to purchase extra copies for Christmas gifts. I enjoyed every story - "Pilgrims" and "Stars of Motown Shining Bright" made my heart quicken, and "When She Is Old and I Am Famous" was hilarious. A few people have singled out "Notes to Sixth-Grade Self" as their least favorite, and I'd have to agree, as it is unquestionably more gimmicky and sort of "chick-litty" than the rest, but even that story was okay.
Julie Orringer is currently at work on a novel. I can't wait to read it.
on September 6, 2003
When I first read "When She Is Old and I am Famous" in the Paris Review, I thought, "Who is this person? How on earth does she know so much about being human?" It's the sort of story that makes you want to offer it flowers and prizes. She does this in story after story. What Julie Orringer seems to have found is a perfect balance between compassion towards and clearsightedness about her characters.
The stories are often sad, but also funny and so deliciously written that the sadness feels healing. The vivid, exact details put a reader right into the middle of the story -- a microscopic eye for the world combined with a feeling for the intricacies of human behavior and feeling and the ability to tell a page-turning story. Each one of these stories seems to clarify and illuminate previously mysterious corners of life.
It's not often that a book, let alone a first book, affords such perfect pleasure in reading. Nothing I can say about the stories could convey what she does. Here are a few beginnings of stories, just to give a sense of the wonderful voices she uses. I'd like to put in the whole stories, because only that way can a reader get a sense of the rightness of the connections, the way that the stories work on all kinds of different levels, from straightforward reading pleasure to the creation of an embodied world to a chance to think about the ways we behave and what that means, to a quietly unobtrusive symbolism that gives the stories great richness. And the stories just keep taking you deeper and deeper. What a beautiful book.
(From "When She Is Old and I Am Famous")
There are grape leaves, like a crown, on her head. Grapes hang in her hair, and in her hands she holds the green vines. She dances with both arms in the air. On her smallest toe she wears a ring of pink shell.
Can someone tell her, please, to go home? This is my Italy and my story. We are in a vineyard near Florence. I have just turned twenty. She is a girl, a gangly teen, and she is a model. She is famous for almost getting killed. Last year, when she was fifteen, a photographer asked her to dance on the rail of a bridge and she fell. A metal rod beneath the water pierced her chest. Water came into the wound, close to her heart, and for three weeks she was in the hospital with an infection so furious it made her chant nonsense. All the while she got thinner and more pale, until, when she emerged, they thought she might be the best model there ever was. Her hair is wavy and long and buckeye-brown, and her blue eyes have a stunned, sad look to them. She's five feet eleven inches tall and weighs one hundred and thirteen lbs. She has told me so.?
(from "Note to Sixth-Grade Self")
"On Wednesdays wear a skirt. A skirt is better for dancing. After school, remember not to take the bus. Go to McDonald's instead. Order the fries. Don't even bother trying to sit with Patricia and Cara. Instead, try to sit with Sasha and Toni Sue. If they won't let you, try to sit with Andrea Shaw. And if Andrea Shaw gets up and throws away the rest of her fries rather than sit with you, sit alone and do not look at anyone. Particularly not the boys. If you do not look at them, they may not notice you sitting alone. And if they don't notice you sitting alone, there is still a chance that one of them will ask you to dance."
"It was Thanksgiving Day and hot, because this was New Orleans; they were driving uptown to have dinner with strangers. Ella pushed at her loose tooth with the tip of her tongue and fanned her legs with the hem of the velvet dress. On the seat beside her, Benjamin fidgeted with his shirt buttons. He had worn his Pilgrim costume, brown shorts and a white shirt and yellow paper buckles taped to his shoes. In the front seat their father drove without a word, while their mother dozed against the window glass. She wore a blue dress and a strand of jade beads and a knit cotton hat beneath which she was bald.
on September 23, 2003
I am afraid I do not even have the words to describe this work, only that I am sure it will become one of those books that women sneak around in their bags as some sort of guilty pleasure, to read over and over again, at every moment possible. After reading it a third time, I still have trouble picking out my favorite piece. I love the fact that the author writes about womanhood from a darker, less trite perspective than most fiction. It is nothing you would ever expect, and more than you could ever dream of. In "Note to Sixth Grade Self," Orringer is able to perfectly capture and reproduce a complex inner monologue of a small, self-concious little girl. Orringer also carefully manipulates the language in "Care" to give it a dizzying affect, thus forcing the reader to fall deeper into the shoes of the narrator. If you appreciate well-developed, original characterization and meticulously painted settings, you cannot afford to pass this one up.
on September 2, 2003
I read a couple advance reviews that suggested this book was going to be a thoughtful and tender examination of relationships in the aftermath of loss. That description turned out to be beautifully true, but incomplete. A current of dark struggle muscles its way through these stories as well, setting the reader uncomfortably on edge. Orringer shows the reader that loss has a dark side that's often sexual and angry. In stories like "Care," "Stars of Motown Shining Bright" and "The Smoothest Way is Full of Stones," you'll see that the language of emotional dislocation is articulated with guns, drugs and sex. Even when a character's pain is kept inside, longing and loneliness seep out in sharp-tongued dialog and clear-eyed self-examination. Prepare yourself for a dark and beautiful ride.
on September 24, 2003
This is the best book I've read all year. In sharp, gorgeous language, Julie Orringer has written nine knockout stories that moved me deeply. I read one of the stories, "When She is Old and I am Famous," in the Paris Review two years ago, and I loved it so much that I kept Julie's name on a post-it note by my desk. I came across a few of the other stories in various places afterward, and loved them just as much as the first. The collection does not disappoint. Every story is beatifully crafted and compelling. Some are funny, some are sad, but they are all filled with great characters and dialogue, and they all work beautifully. I have recommended the book to all of my friends, and I anxiously await whatever else Ms. Orringer writes in the future.
on January 19, 2004
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. She breathes new meaning into short story writing, redefining the mold. Her opening "Pilgrims" is haunting and very powerful, like every other story in that it leaves the reader begging for more! Of course some stories might appeal more to a certain audience, but the collection is so complete offering a wide array of genres and topics that deal with life, death, confusion, and happiness. This book is a must read- any others who may be degrading the book were not mature enough to look at the true meaning behind the opening. I loved it!
on January 14, 2004
I read the first story and - yeeecccchhhh - weird, hopeless, depressing and horrifying pretty much sum it up. The characters in this short story all make you want to run into the light of normalcy. Morose kids, strange house, freaky grown-ups, dying mothers, screaming bratty girl who meets a truly preposterous fate, etc. etc. One might argue that Orringer is really "deep." If this is deep, give me shallow, please! Guess it's super hip to be hung up on the dark side.
Tried to continue with the Sixth Grade Self story, just could not. Unendurable. Surely filled with angst and misery if the start was any indication.
This collection goes back to the library shelf, and soon.
on September 24, 2003
After hearing a reading by the author at a local book shop I decided to purchase the collection, how could I not after hearing a segment of one of the stories? I needed to find out how the story ended. The choice to buy "How to Breathe Underwater: Stories" was a terrific one. Each story while drawing me into the plot, proved to be emotionally powerful and poignant. The writing itself is phenomenal; it seems that each and every word is so carefully considered and placed in exactly the right sequence that the stories offered me, the reader, a most enriched experience. The end result is true literature that speaks to your mind and heart in a most satisfying manner.