How to Breathe Underwater

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Short Stories Challenge – What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published January 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s What We Save all about?:

The penultimate story in Julie Orringer’s marvellous short story collection focuses on two sisters who visit Disneyland in Florida with their mother who is suffering from cancer.

What did I think?:

I’ve really fallen in love with some of the characters and the stories in this collection. Hard-hitting, poignant, heart-breaking and often about difficult subjects, a lot of the stories are not exactly what I would call cheery reading but they definitely touch something inside of you as you read them. What We Save is another classic example of a family in turmoil, trying to make each day count as they spend a day out in the land of make believe, Disneyland, Orlando.

We are instantly placed into the perspective of a young girl of 14, Helena who also has a younger sister, Margot. They are on their way to Disneyland to meet up with their mother’s old high school sweetheart and his family to spend a magical day. All Helena can worry about is her mother, Nancy though and how she is feeling. We guess pretty early on that Nancy is seriously unwell, probably cancer when she is described as wearing a wig but it is confirmed fairly swiftly. We also get a sense of how strongly the mother feels about her old flame, Brian and how important today is for her, especially as she seems to have something she wants to hand over, something she has saved for many years.

This idea of her mother handing over something so treasured to her devastates Helena as she worries that this may be a sign that her mother is finally giving up and letting cancer win. However, this is not her only worry of the day. During one of the rides (Space Mountain for Disney fans), something happens to Helena that robs her of all her childhood innocence and suggests that she may finally have entered the scary, sometimes tragic world of being an adult.

This story was so touching and you can probably guess, quite hard to read at times. I’m lucky enough not to have had any of my close family succumb to cancer at this time but there’s been a scare both with myself and another person. I remember how terrifying even the thought of the deadly “C” felt so I can’t imagine how people who have actually lost their loved ones would feel reading this. However, I did also like that it was not just about cancer, it was about Helena and what she goes through at Disneyland. In a way, she loses something forever that can’t be returned and I believe this connects with fearing the potential loss of her mother which makes the experience all the more scary. I’m a bit sad that there is only one more story to go in this brilliant awe-inspiring collection, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and, for a debut collection, it’s truly an amazing piece of work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – April to June

Published April 1, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Welcome to another three months in my Short Stories Challenge! The first few months of this year have whizzed by and I’ve found some great pieces of short fiction to add to my collection. Here’s the stories that will take me right through to the summer:

Week beginning 4th April

Elephants In Captivity (Part One) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Week beginning 11th April

Space by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 18th April

If It Keeps On Raining by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 25th April

The Lordly Ones by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 2nd May

Tiger Moth by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 9th May

The Shadow Tree by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Week beginning 16th May

The Unremarkable Heart by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 23rd May

Red Letter Day by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 30th May

Getting It Wrong by Ramsey Campbell from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 6th June

The Haunter Of The Dark by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 13th June

Hogmanay Homicide by Edward Marston from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 20th June

What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 27th June

A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge – Stars Of Motown Shining Bright by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published March 29, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s Stars Of Motown Shining Bright all about?:

Two fifteen year old girls have fallen in love with the same man and risk their friendship by both travelling to see him for an evening. However, all three end up getting a lot more than they had bargained for.

What did I think?:

I can’t describe exactly how much I love this collection of short stories, my first experience of the tour de force that is Julie Orringer’s writing. Of course as with other collections, some stories are better than others but in this particular case I think I can say that each story so far has touched me in some way as I was reading. In Stars Of Motown Shining Bright our two main female characters are fifteen year old Lucy (our narrator) and her friend Melissa. I think at school we may have all had a friend like Melissa – supremely confident, perhaps slightly arrogant and extremely emotionally manipulative. Lucy is the quieter sort who always feels a bit inferior in comparison to her friend with her fashionable clothes, general demeanour and complete assuredness in everything she does.

As the story begins, the girls are about to go on a overnight visit to see their mutual friend, Jack Jacob whom they both have a huge crush on. Lucy however is quite excited for a different reason. She feels that she has finally “got one up” on her friend as she has recently lost her virginity to Jack when he came back to their town a little while ago. Lucy can’t wait for Melissa to find out and feels immensely proud that Jack has chosen her as the girl he wants to be with. Perhaps the reader may see this coming but this is not quite the case unfortunately for poor Lucy (yes, I must always champion the underdog!).

Jack Jacob is revealed as the kind of boy you really shouldn’t be touching, even with a ten foot bargepole and, for a time, it seems like the girls will not be able to see him for the slimeball that he most definitely is. Julie Orringer really surprised me by creating a heroine in Lucy that any woman reading this short story will love (and this story could have gone a number of different ways). Lucy does so much more than hold her own though – she grows up within such a short space of time, develops serious self-respect, teaches Jack a brilliant lesson and even manages to “save” Melissa in the process.

I was slightly concerned about where the story may be going when a certain instrument in a glove compartment is mentioned and was on the edge of my seat by the dramatic finale. However, it ended in the most perfect way and should remind all young girls in close friendships that a despicable man who seems to have no concept of decency or how to treat people is not worth the risk or their precious time. There are a lot of themes in this tale which the author explores throughout the entire collection, for example, teenage sexuality, coming of age, friendships and strong, female independence, all of which Julie Orringer writes about with incredible beauty and enthusiasm. Great story, great characters, great message… more please!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Charm For A Friend With A Lump by Helen Simpson from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – January to March

Published January 9, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://quotes.lifehack.org/quote/ali-smith/short-stories-consume-you-faster-theyre-connected/

Hooray for a new year and more short stories! This is what I’ll be reading for the first three months of 2016.

Week beginning 4th January 2016

Duet by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 11th January 2016

The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer by John Ajvide Lindqvist from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 18th January 2016

Dreams In The Witch-House by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 25th January 2016

Enough Of This Shit Already by Tony Black from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 1st February 2016

Stars Of Motown Shining Bright by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 8th February 2016

Charm For A Friend With A Lump by Helen Simpson from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 15th February 2016

Paranoid: A Chant by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 22nd February 2016

Still Life by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Week beginning 29th February 2016

Notes From The House Spirits by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 7th March 2016

How I Finally Lost My Heart by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives Of Women

Week beginning 14th March 2016

The Graveless Doll Of Eric Mutis by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 21st March 2016

The Adventure Of The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 28th March 2016

Choke Collar: Positron, Episode Two by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

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

Published October 20, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Care all about?:

Care focuses on a woman called Tessa who is entrusted with the care of her niece for a day yet due to a drug addiction she can barely take care of herself.

What did I think?:

I’m really enjoying this short story collection by Julie Orringer and Care is another example of everything a short story should be – intriguing, informative, thrilling and satisfying, giving you just enough at the end to be pleasing, while still leaving you wanting a bit more. The main character of the story is Tessa and she is taking care of her niece Olivia for the day while her older sister is at a conference and has a whole exciting day ahead filled with ice cream, watching some sea-lions and souvenir shopping. That is, if she can stop thinking about the pills she has in her jacket pocket, “Devvie’s” and “Sallies” which, at the beginning of this story, she is determined to do without. Just feeling the familiarity of the pillbox appears to be enough initially until she finds herself getting short-tempered with her niece and decides to take a Devvie, just to make it through the day.

We don’t learn much about her life but what we do learn is enough. Her mother died when she was very young and she used to be very close with her sister Gayle (Olivia’s mother), to the point where they both made plans to live in Barcelona together. However, as Gayle grew up and met the love of her life, that notion slipped away and Tessa was left in a sort of limbo, not entirely sure what she was going to do, so heavily invested was she in the Barcelona plan. It is when Tessa meets her boyfriend Kenji that things really start falling apart. He is the one who introduces her to the drugs, they often take a concoction together and now it has become a daily ritual.

The day starts to turn sour when Olivia decides she wants a soft toy which Tessa cannot pay for then encourages her to steal and turns into her worst nightmare when just after taking another pill (a Sallie this time) Olivia goes missing. Tessa is in a bathroom stall at the time in a drugged stupor, having trouble focusing and becoming anxious as the drug takes effect. This is probably the lowest part of her life so far, when she finally realises how much she is reliant on the drug and the effect her addiction can have on her and other people’s lives.

This was a brilliant little story and had me hooked from the very first page. I was instantly interested in the character of Tessa and enjoyed finding out about her life and what had brought her to be in this very sticky situation. Of course, the tension is ramped up a notch when Olivia goes missing and I had to remind myself to slow down and savour every moment as I desperately wanted to read ahead and see what the outcome was! I don’t even feel that I can criticise any part of this story, it was beautifully written and I was quite disappointed in a way when it ended. I want to know what happens to Tessa next!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Cat That Walked By Himself by Rudyard Kipling from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – July to September

Published July 1, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Welcome to another three months of short stories! This little lot should see me through into the autumn.

Week beginning 6th July

Small Degrees by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 13th July

Airshow by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 20th July

The Menace by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 27th July

Candia by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 3rd August

Medicine by Michel Faber from the collection The

Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 10th August

Necessary Women by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 17th August

The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 24th August

Tell Me I’ll See You Again by Dennis Etchison from the collection A Book of Horrors

Week beginning 31st August

The Whisperer in Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 7th September

The Rat In The Attic by Brian McGilloway from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7

Week beginning 14th September

Care by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 21st September

The Cat That Walked By Himself by Rudyard Kipling from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 28th September

The Wedding Gig by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Short Stories Challenge – The Smoothest Way Is Full Of Stones by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published June 14, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Smoothest Way Is Full Of Stones all about?:

This is a story about two young girls trying to survive the perils of divorce, death and religion whilst experiencing the first pangs of sexual awakening.

What did I think?:

I have really enjoyed the themes explored by Julie Orringer in this short story collection so far and The Smoothest Way Is Full Of Stones is another of those tales with multiple themes as two girls stand on the brink of womanhood and begin to discover the adult world with all of its promise and confusion. Our narrator is a young girl called Rebecca who is sent to stay with her Aunt after a family tragedy. It is a whole different world for Rebecca who has always been close to her cousin Erica, but after her Aunt divorced then re-married and became Orthodox Jewish her cousin is now known as Esther, Esty for short. There are a whole lot of new rules and regulations to abide by whilst living with the family yet Rebecca enjoys praying and singing, dressing and acting appropriately and preparing for the Jewish festivals such as Shabbos as something novel, exciting and perhaps something to believe in.

When we first meet Rebecca and Esty they are swimming in the lake fully clothed and thoroughly enjoying themselves until they see a young boy familiar to Esty hiding something under the porch steps. After he is gone the intrigued girls rush to see what it is that he is so desperate to hide and are completely shocked to find a book: Essence of Persimmon: Eastern Sexual Secrets for Western Lives. After a quick flick through Esty pronounces it a sin and says they should hide the book where no-one can find it suggesting the top of the closet at home and completely ignore the boy, Dovid Frankel at the Shabbos celebration due to be held later on that evening. Later on, Rebecca finds herself caught in an exciting and intimate moment with Dovid at the party after a talk about religion and their own beliefs yet is certain he would not be touching her if she were an Orthodox girl like her cousin.

Later on, Esty is incensed about Rebecca and Dovid (we kind of sense that she has a bit of a crush on him herself) and refuses to speak to her cousin. She does however, take the opportunity to hide in the closet and have another look through the book, the same one that she described as “an abomination,” earlier in the day. The rest of the story explores the girls relationship and we sense that through the discovery of the book it has changed from pure and innocent fun to a more adult and competitive relationship where the ultimate goal is who can get the boy. It is obvious that both girls are struggling, Esty with her enforced new religion and new “Uncle,” and Rebecca with grief from what has happened to her family, worry over what her family may now be like and confusion over religion and her own beliefs. Throw in the discovery of sex, boys and what it means to both now very different girls and its no surprise that they’re having difficulties!

This was a really interesting little story and like the stories that I’ve read in What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander, it was nice to learn a bit more about the Jewish faith. What I love about Julie Orringer though is how real she makes every character, especially her adolescent girls. When I’m reading characters like Rebecca or Esty, it’s almost like I’ve been plonked right back down into adolescence myself and I remember so acutely how things felt and the struggles that you go through. The link back to Rebecca’s family was also nice to read about and I actually felt quite worried about how this fictional family was going to cope after their tragedy – definitely the sign of a good writer! The author manages to explore so many themes in this story (and collection) especially religion in this particular tale without ever coming across as preachy which is great for a reader like me as I’m always interested to learn about other beliefs, just don’t give me a sermon! Luckily, Julie Orringer pulls this off beautifully and delivers another brilliant short story.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night