Short Stories Challenge – The Isabel Fish by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published August 14, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s The Isabel Fish all about?:

Nine brave, wise, and spellbinding stories make up this award-winning debut. Alive with the victories, humiliations, and tragedies of youth, How to Breathe Underwater””illuminates this powerful territory with striking grace and intelligence.

In “Isabel Fish” fourteen-year-old Maddy learns to scuba dive in order to mend her family after a terrible accident.

What did I think?:

The Isabel Fish is the third story from this excellent first collection from Julie Orringer and one I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend. Our main character is a young girl called Maddy whom when the story begins, along with her elder brother Sage, has been gifted a set of scuba diving lessons at the local pool from her parents, with the intention to use them during an upcoming family holiday. However, there lies a darker and sadder reason behind the gift, as four months ago Maddy was involved in a traumatic accident where she was trapped in a car underwater with her brothers girlfriend Isabel. Maddy managed to survive by escaping the vehicle through a window but Isabel remained trapped and drowned while Maddy was desperately trying to get help. This has left her with a terrifying fear of water, she tells us that she has had to have cognitive counselling purely to feel comfortable in the bath and, what makes it worse, is that her brother Sage seems to blame her for the accident and is more terrible to her than you would expect from “normal” sibling rivalry.

Maddy manages to escape from everything she is dealing with by means of her fish, of the tropical pet kind and another variety that she has raised from eggs and is undertaking scientific experiments about aggression on. She has tried not to get too emotionally attached to the fish but as there are 24 experimental fish, she cannot resist giving each a name, one for each letter of the alphabet. It is interesting to note here that the I fish is Isabel and the S fish is Sage, a fish who has a reputation for being quite aggressive. Well named there! Sage (the brother, not the fish!) drives Maddy to their first scuba diving lesson at the pool albeit reluctantly and dissociates himself from her completely whilst there. On the way, he amuses himself by making cruel remarks about how many scuba divers are killed by sharks and that it would be quite easy for someone to “mess” with her tank whilst she was underwater, leaving her unable to breathe. When it comes time for them to enter the pool, Maddy has a panic attack as soon as she goes underwater and has to be rescued. Instead of being concerned, Sage is utterly humiliated and makes her feel terrible then in a fit of temper and looking for revenge, does something exceptionally spiteful.

Through the rest of the story, we hear about what happened on that fateful night when Isabel was killed, and learn a bit more about the brother/sister relationship beforehand. We learn a little more about Sage and his emotions directly after the event, and perhaps understand him a little more although we cannot condone what he has done. I enjoyed every single moment of this story and was quite sad when it had to end, although the ending was absolutely perfect and rounded things off nicely. Not only do we have some fantastic characters – the one you love to hate (Sage) and the one you love to love (Maddy), but every emotion expressed by the two was evident in the author’s beautiful writing style that left me feeling literally everything that was happening. One of my favourite short stories in the challenge so far, to be sure!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

One comment on “Short Stories Challenge – The Isabel Fish by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

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