Summary and book reviews of Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle

Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing

Stories

By Lydia Peelle

Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing
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  • Paperback: Aug 2009,
    208 pages.

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Book Summary

With this first book of fiction, a gifted young writer brings together eight superbly crafted stories that peer deeply into the human heart, exploring lives derailed by the loss of a vital connection to the land and to the natural world of which they are a part.

"Mule Killers" evokes the end of an era and of a grandfather's dreams when he decides to replace animal power on his farm with tractors. Two restless young girls in "Sweethearts of the Rodeo" live out their last summer of innocence, riding ponies recklessly and spying on their boss and the wealthy women who visit him. In "Phantom Pain," the Tennessee woods are a sliver of what they once were, men now hunt with GPS and cell phones, and the rumor of a dangerous panther on the loose stirs up a small town.

An unexpected vision of the beauty and mystery of life redeems the darkest moments in this stellar debut collection, a book that readers will want to read and reread.

Chapter One

Mule Killers

My father was eighteen when the mule killers finally made it to his father's farm. He tells me that all across the state that year, big trucks loaded with mules rumbled steadily to the slaughterhouses. They drove over the roads that mules themselves had cut, the gravel and macadam that mules themselves had laid. Once or twice a day, he says, you would hear a high-pitched bray come from one of the trucks, a rattling as it went by, then silence, and you would look up from your work for a moment to listen to that silence. The mules when they were trucked away were sleek and fat on oats, work-shod and in their prime. The best color is fat, my grandfather used to say, when asked. But that year, my father tells me, that one heartbreaking year, the best color was dead. Pride and Jake and Willy Boy, Champ and Pete were dead, Kate and Sue and Orphan Lad, Orphan Lad was dead.

In the spring of that year, in the afternoon of a rain--brightened day, my father's ...

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Reviews

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My copy of Lydia Peelle's debut collection, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, is filled with bookmarks notating remarkable lines and passages, starting with the first line of the first story: My father was eighteen when the mule killers finally made it to his father's farm. Each story demands to be read in one sitting, but you'll need a break in between to take in their often surprising emotional heft; this is no lightweight collection, and Peelle knows how to break hearts. In my favorite story, "Sweethearts of the Rodeo", the narrator remembers the summer she and her best friend spent together as wily stable girls - "the last summer, the last one before boys."

We are covered in scrapes and bruises, splinters buried so deep in our palms that we don't know they are there. Our bodies forgive us our risks, and the ponies do, too. We have perfected the art of falling.

The story is alive with the proud fearlessness of these rough-and-tumble girls who still know how to play, undaunted by the dawning awareness of the adults misbehaving around them. (Rodeo is our favorite game, because it is the fastest and most reckless, involving many feats of speed and bravery…) Writing mostly in the first person plural, Peelle nails the inseparable pair, the fierce solidarity, the superiority that is possible only in childhood. "Sweethearts" is deeply atmospheric – for a few pages I really lived in that hot, dusty world, wishing I'd been a sweetheart of the rodeo. As I reached the last page, guessing at some loss of innocence approaching, all of a sudden my throat caught and my eyes filled – a sudden cry escaped when I reached the last paragraph. No plot spoiler here; nothing "happens," except the end of that summer, the summer before boys. I couldn't read anything else the rest of that day – except for this one story, over and over again, to try and figure out how it was done, and to spend another moment inside that summer.

Abbreviated from "Short Stories for Summer" by Lucia Silva  

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Peelle writes her meaty characters with vigor and packs each tale with descriptions so subtly vibrant that they warrant multiple visits.

Booklist

Rock-solid prose, surprising connections, and resounding transformations add up to powerful and significant stories of improvised life in a consumed world.

Bookforum

The eight stories in Lydia Peelle's debut collection are remarkable for their clarity and precision. . . . artful..

New York Times

Lydia Peelle’s lovely, fluid voice lures you into a world full of heartbreak and devastation. Each of the eight stories in the collection is a small feat of craftsmanship, remarkably consistent in pacing and tone. But there’s a wildness under the surface, a willingness to hurtle past the boundaries of everything polite, that calls to mind masters of the unsettling short story like Mary Gaitskill, or even Alice Munro.

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