Short Stories Challenge – When She Is Old and I Am Famous by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published March 16, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s When She Is Old and I am Famous all about?:

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 cousin’s beauty.

What did I think?:

This is the second short story in this beautiful collection by Julie Orringer which concerns two cousins, Mira and Aïda – pronounced Ai-ee-duh: two cries of pain and one of stupidity, as our narrator Mira informs us. Right from the beginning, we get a complete picture of the two girls, and in particular how Mira feels about her cousin. The girls grew up together with Mira always feeling inferior to her cousins beauty and charms while she just describes herself as “fat.” Now that they are both young women, Aïda is a very successful fashion model gracing the covers of Vogue and charming everyone she meets. Mira is a talented painter, and although she seems to have little faith in herself, her mother is certain that she will go far in the art world.

Cut to the present time and the girls are together in Italy with a couple of male friends, one of whom is a photographer and is taking  arty pictures of Aïda dancing amongst the grape vines. Mira’s resentment and frustration with her pretty cousin is obvious, and she seethes at the power Aïda seems to have over the two boys. The story continues as Aïda and the photographer Joseph, who she seems to have on a leash, break into a house that Aïda is determined belongs to her mother and she is desperate to retrieve a memento of her, having not seen her since she was three years old. It is clear that although she is beautiful and successful, she is also unhappy, and towards the end when Mira has an accident and Aïda is looking after her, that the cousins may be starting to outgrow their childish notions of each other.

As with Julie Orringer’s first story Pilgrims, the writing is captivating and draws the reader into the world she has developed. I love that the author seems to get those emotions of adolescence, inferiority, and jealousy bang on, and it led me to reminiscing about my own childhood and the mixture of feelings and longings you develop as you approach adulthood. Although I preferred Pilgrims to this tale, I still find myself thinking about the cousins and re-visiting certain scenes which is definitely the sign of a good story.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Student by Anton Chekhov from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

2 comments on “Short Stories Challenge – When She Is Old and I Am Famous by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

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