Sunday, 17 March 2013

Short Story Sunday - Julie Orringer

How To Breathe Underwater - Julie Orringer

I had intended to ration the reading of this collection throughout the week. Once I started to read though, I polished it off in a couple of days, which is a testament to Orringer's skill as a storyteller, and her ability to authentically portray the thoughts of young women, as I didn't enjoy most of the stories.

Orringer's debut collection consists of nine tales which focus on girls and young women (from ages 9 to 20) as they deal with the 'complicated' parts of life: how to handle a mother's terminal cancer, bullying at school, jealousy, religious identity, sexual awakening and betrayal, grief, guilt and drug addiction.

I found the themes and plots of most of the stories either too bleak or too salacious. At times, some of the stories seemed unnecessarily sensational and I think the collection as a whole would have worked better with more low-key stories.

However, I did like the second story in the collection, When She Is Old and I am Famous. This story centres around the animosity and jealousy that Mira, the twenty year old, overweight narrator,  feels for her fifteen year old cousin, Aida, who is a successful model - "Ai-ee-duh: two cries of pain and one of stupidity".

Mira is studying art in Italy and, despite their mutual dislike, her cousin, who lives in Paris, comes to stay for a holiday, interrupting Mira's friendship with her classmates Joseph and Drew, who drool over Mira's beautiful cousin and ignore her.

The story deals with themes of female rivalry, career ambition, insecurity and unconventional family life. The dialogue is witty and sharp, and the less sensational story line lent this tale a subtlety and sophistication that I thought was missing in some of the more dramatic stories. 

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