Short Stories Challenge – Pilgrims by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published November 3, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s Pilgrims all about?:

In her dazzling first book Julie Orringer dives into the private world of childhood and immerses us in its fears and longings. Pilgrims is told from the perspective of a child called Ella whose family are going to a Thanksgiving dinner at the house of people they barely seem to know. Her mother has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy, and it is a heart-rending and uneasy account of how people deal with tragedy.

What did I think?:

This book was a gift for my birthday from my sister, and a perfect addition for my Short Story Challenge. The first story, Pilgrims is narrated by a young girl called Ella whom we meet on a car journey with her parents and younger brother to spend Thanksgiving with an unfamiliar group of people. Almost straight away we find out her mother has cancer and is having treatment which leaves her feeling tired and very unwell. Ella and her brother Benjamin are anxious about the visit, and are having difficulty coping with their mothers illness. They even have a special “knocking code” between their bedroom walls at home that tears at the heart-strings slightly: “one knock, I’m afraid, two knocks, Don’t worry; three knocks, Are you still awake? four, Come quick.” On arriving at the house, the reader realises that the other guests at the dinner are all unwell themselves, and being there is akin to a therapy session. While the group begins a meditation class, the children are pushed out to play with some motherless children who seem to think terrifying Ella and Benjamin by playing “hostages” is the order of the day.

The shocking conclusion to this story really surprised me, and had me thinking about it long after I had put the book down. Julie Orringer writes with such beautiful detail and poignancy that it really was a delight to read, and I found certain images sticking in my head and refusing to shift. I also believe that the author has captured the tragedy of illness and the awkwardness of childhood perfectly, and I look forward to reading the rest of the collection.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Her First Ball by Katherine Mansfield from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

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