Wednesday 18 July 2012

Not Orange but Orringer

'How to breathe under water' by Julie Orringer
This is an excellent collection of short stories, and as usual it has been on the library request list so long I can't remember where I read about it. Having said that it has not interrupted my Orange reading much as I only started it on Friday and finished it Sunday afternoon (I stayed in bed until mid afternoon to get myself into holiday mode.) 

Most of the stories in the book are about young or teenage girls, not all the same girl though you get the feeling it could be. There is a similiar environment and setting and threads of similar themes that run through them. Jewishness is one; in 'The smoothest way is full of stones' a young girl is staying with relatives who have newly rediscovered orthodoxy and she and her cousin are both engaged by and rebel against the rules. Several have mothers with cancer, causing an extended withdrawal from parenting responsibilities so children are forced back onto their own resources; children watching from the sidelines at part of life that they do not really understand and which the adults fail to notice. In 'Stars of Motown shining bright' it is friendships between girls, or the lack of it; it turns out the two girls have a thing for the same boy, but instead of turning on each other Lucy decides to save her friend from herself:

"Then she thought of the girl who'd crashed into her at the skating rink, the girl in the pink tank top who might or might not have been Connie. How Lucy had tried to let the girl know it was okay. How the girl had glared at her and said fuck you. That was what happened when girls treated each other the way those girls had treated Connie. They got to the point where they couldn't recognise help, where every other girl seemed like an enemy." (p.166)

They are all very well paced, giving you just enough background to get you sucked in, tantalising you with dangling details to keep you reading, and leaving you wondering what the consequences might have been when you get to the end. I think I liked 'Care' the best, about a young woman taking her niece out for the day and the spiral of anxiety caused when having some idea of what the right thing is when looking after a small child conflicts with her own addiction to mood altering chemicals:

"Tessa know how to cross the street with a six-year-old: you take her hand, look both ways, and wait until it's safe. Then you stay within the crosswalk as you cross. She does all these things as she guides Olivia, her niece, across the street towards the cable-car stop. There's a right way to take care of a child, she knows, and a wrong way. Many wrong ways. What you do not do: Take the drugs that are in your pocket, the Devvies and Sallies in their silver pillbox. She can make it through the day without them. Even bringing them was wrong -  another wrong thing. But it makes her feel better to have them close by." (p.123)

Although only one is written first person they were all very intense and intimate, giving you the perspective of a single protagonist, very much about the people, their relationships and their moral dilemmas. A most enjoyable read.

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