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Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing: Stories Paperback – Deckle Edge, July 21, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In this debut collection of eight esoteric stories—three of them prize winners—Peelle's characters negotiate tumultuous relationships and buried memories. This nimbly crafted group of lonely souls range from a one-legged taxidermist, who happens to be the only person in town who does not believe a hungry panther is on the loose, to a winter-bound woman, tormented by her ex-husband but saved by the most unlikely of creatures. In This Is Not a Love Story, a mother comes across a box of old photographs, which remind her of a summer she spent trying to turn a hobby into a career and a lush into a husband. In Sweethearts of the Rodeo, the narrator reminisces about working at a stable with her best friend, tormenting their handsome boss and the rich women who board their horses there. Yet another, The Still Point, follows a man traveling with a carnival, trying to outrun the loss of his twin brother and family home. Peelle writes her meaty characters with vigor and packs each tale with descriptions so subtly vibrant that they warrant multiple visits. (Aug.)
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“Lydia Peelle’s lovely, fluid voice lures you into a world full of heartbreak and devastation.... calls to mind masters of the unsettling short story like Mary Gaitskill, or even Alice Munro. … [Peelle] has the makings of a writer who defies labels and creates her own categories.” (New York Times Book Review)
“With humor and insight, these sharply etched fictions illuminate turning points...in lives conscribed by limited horizons.... Peelle vividly evokes a setting and brings its inhabitants...instantly and convincingly to life.” (Boston Globe)
“An incredible collection of eight gorgeously crafted stories, with wonderfully drawn characters whose individual tales stay with you.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“The eight stories in Lydia Peelle’s debut collection are remarkable for their clarity and precision. . . . artful...” (BookForum)
“Peelle’s acute perception of a squandered world inspires complex, suspenseful stories that celebrate life’s endless improvisation and assertion....darkly lyrical, ironic and compassionate stories...brilliant and stunning.” (Kansas City Star)
“Peelle’s stories in REASONS FOR AND ADVANTAGES OF BREATHING carry a memory of the Southern past that we might find in a short story by Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty.” (BOMB Magazine)
“Rock-solid prose, surprising connections, and resounding transformations add up to powerful and significant stories of improvised life in a consumed world.” (Booklist (starred review))
“Peelle writes her meaty characters with vigor and packs each tale with descriptions so subtly vibrant that they warrant multiple visits.” (Publishers Weekly)
“[The stories] read like fully formed classics, as if Bob Dylan was rewriting the stories of Alice Munro. These are eight clear and precise gems, deeply rooted in Southern soil, and alive with every pore to heartbreak and possibility.” (Louisville Courier Journal)
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I understand that 'Southern' isn't the pent-ultimate criterion for judging literature, but she's described as a Southern author on the cover and a review refers to her Southern stories. Any Southern native can spot an authentically Southern wordsmith from an imported one any day and twice on Sunday. This is fabulous writing and it's certainly a keeper. I'll re-read these tales again.
There is a unifying theme, a common thread running through most of these stories: the effect of modern technology on the human psyche, the deleterious effect of human progress on nature, the rapidly dwindling wilderness, the pain and cruelty man inflicts on others and also on animals, and the most alarming phenomenon - the diminishing ability of man to empathize with others. These points meld perfectly in the story I most admired, "The mule killers", about the effect of the advent of tractors not just on the narrator's grandfather's farm, but on the grandfather's mind itself. The narrator describes the heart-rending scene of the mules of the farm carted away in trailers to the slaughterhouse, to be sold as cheap meat for dog food. This story just tugged at my heat and caused me a great deal of pain and anguish. This story won the O Henry Award in 2006.
"This is not a love story", "Shadow on a weary land", "The still point", and "Sweet hearts of the rodeo" are extraordinarily good. I enjoyed reading them.
Two of these stories have been featured in the "Best New American Voices", and two others have won Pushcart Prizes also. And all these stories have been published, individually, as e-Books by "Mobypocket".
I do not wish to compare Lydia Peelle with other short story writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri and Alice Munro because Lydia Peelle has a unique voice and a unique style. Reading this book was a great joy.