Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New read:

Currently reading "How to Breathe Underwater" by Julie Orringer.

From the inside flap:

"Nine fiercely beautiful, impossible-to-put-down stories from a young writer who has already received immediate worldwide attention. Julie Orringer's characters -- all of them submerged by loss, whether of parents or lovers or a viable relationship to the world in general -- struggle mightily against the wildly engulfing forces that threaten to overtake us all. All of them learn, gloriously if at great cost, how to breathe underwater.

In "Pilgrims", a band of motherless children torment each other on Thanksgiving day. In "The Isabel Fish", the sole survivor of a drowning accident takes up scuba diving. In "When She is Old and I am Famous", a young woman confronts the inscrutable power of her cousin's beauty ("Aida. That's her terrible name. Ai-ee-duh: two cries of pain and one of stupidity"). In "The Smoothest Way is Full of Stones", the failure of religious and moral codes -- to protect, to comfort, to offer solace -- is seen through the eyes of a group of Orthodox Jewish adolescents discovering the irresistible power of their burgeoning sexuality.

In story after story, Orringer captures moments when the dark contours of the adult world come sharply into focus: Here are young people abandoned to their own devices, thrust too soon into predicaments of insoluble difficulty, and left to fend for themselves against the wide variety of human trouble. Buoyed by the exquisite tenderness of remembered love, they learn to take up residence in this strange new territory, if not to transcend it, and to fashion from their grief new selves, new lives. Orringer's debut collection blazes with emotion, with human appetite, with fortitude, with despair; these nine uncommonly wise and assured stories introduce an astonishing new talent."

I haven't finished it yet; I'm only about 4 stories in. But so far my favorites are "The Isabel Fish" and "Note to Sixth-Grade Self". Both of these because of how familiar the main characters seem. Like versions of myself. In the first, I am able to relate to the main character so completely that it frightened me when I finished it. I am her. We are the same. In the second, the perspective of the narration is one I don't think I've ever read before. It's fresh. And it is exactly how I would talk to my sixth-grade self if I could (and I often wish I was able to). And I'm a little sad that I didn't think to write in this way before.

Read this book. Read these stories. Even if you find them boring -- even if you get nothing out of them -- you can't deny that they are beautifully written. And you have to respect that.

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