How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer

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“Aïda. That is her terrible name. Ai-ee-duh: two cries of pain and one of stupidity.”

I’m not usually drawn to short stories and I can’t remember where I heard of this collection originally, but it’s been on my ‘to read’ list for as long as I’ve had a to read list, so I finally just ordered it.

The collection is made up of 9 short stories about various subjects, many of which focus repeatedly on the themes of youth, femininity, family and the darkness that can creep beneath the surface of all three.

Some of the stories were better than others, but they were all enjoyable, especially the second story ‘When she is old and I am famous’ which I found to be a clever insight into the instinctual, spiteful competition that women and girls can have towards one another if they think one possesses qualities the other lacks, as if there were a finite amount of beauty/intelligence/talent in the world and that if someone else has some, they’ll be none left for anyone else. 

Orringer has a fascinating way of writing about relationships, and about the maturity that we often forget children are capable of when presented with situations that even some adults are fortunate enough never to have experienced. It’s easy to look back into your past with rose tinted glasses, pretending that innocence lasts a lot longer than we know it to and forgetting all of the dangers, cruelties and hostilities that we can be exposed to when we are young, but Orringer strips away all of that, and presents us with the very real horrors that go hand in hand with growing up.

4/5

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