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How to Breathe Underwater: Storiesby Julie Orringer
The opening story of Julie Orringer's debut collection is a truly original variant on the Gothic tale, set in the unlikely jungle of a New Orleans back yard. Another piece reconstructs the trials of one girl's adolescence in the form of a corrective letter to her younger self. Propelled by knowing, captivating voices, Orringer's sentences practically cartwheel down the page.
Synopses & Reviews
Nine brave, wise, and spellbinding stories make up this award-winning debut. In "When She is Old and I Am Famous" a young woman confronts the inscrutable power of her cousn's beauty. In "Note to Sixth-Grade Self" a band of popular girls exert their social power over an awkward outcast. In "Isabel Fish" fourteen-year-old Maddy learns to scuba dive in order to mend her family after a terrible accident.
Alive with the victories, humiliations, and tragedies of youth, How to Breathe Underwater illuminates this powerful territory with striking grace and intelligence.
"Julie Orringer is the real thing, a breathtaking chronicler of the secrets and cruelties underneath the surface of middle-class American life. These are terrific stories–wise, compassionate and haunting." Dan Chaon
"In How to Breathe Underwater, Julie Orringer delves into the complex lives of girls and young women, and with uncommon courage and exceptional clarity she shows us what she finds: passionate, often disturbing feelings of longing and jealousy and grief; an intense struggle to make sense of the unfathomable world of adults, and above all a determination to survive. These are tough, beautiful stories, piercing and true, and they mark the debut of an exceptionally gifted writer." Ann Packer
"Intelligent, heartfelt stories that tell a whole new set of truths about growing up American. Julie Orringer writes with virtuosity and depth about the fears, cruelties, and humiliations of childhood, but then does that rarest, and more difficult, thing: writes equally beautifully about the moments of victory and transcendence." George Saunders
"These are wonderful stories. There is a headlong narrative energy in Julie Orringer's stories that I find quite remarkable, and it is combined with a tremendous intelligence about the behavoir of children and adolescents." Charles Baxter
"A stunning debut." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"[A] fine book of stories...clear-eyed precision makes Orringer's debut as heartbreaking as it is clever." Entertainment Weekly
"[Orringer's] short stories are exceptionally translucent, deep, and fluid....[A] sensuous yet edgy fictional universe....Orringer's unnerving and fiercely beautiful stories delve to the very core of life's mysteries." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"[T]hese stories have a curious power. They sound utterly authentic; Orringer hardly ever misjudges a scene or a line of dialogue....[S]omething altogether magical. Like all good short stories, these make you yearn for novels." Melinda Bargreen, The Seattle Times
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 (“Aïda. That is 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Julie Orringer is a graduate of the Iowa Writers? Workshop and Cornell University, and was a Stegner Fellow in the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University. Her stories have appeared in The Paris Review, The Yale Review, Ploughshares, The Pushcart Prize anthology, and Zoetrope: All-Story. She is thirty years old and lives in San Francisco.
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