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h ow to b re a the underw a ter FI ach story in the collection demonstrates an acute understanding of the isolation and loneli ness integral to change. “Note to Sixth-Grade Self” is another favorite, written in the form of adult advice to one’s awkward, alienated younger self. After being chosen to dance with the popular Eric Cassio for a dance class demonstration, the narrator’s presumably geeky sixth-grade self is punished tripped and injured during field hockey practiceby the girls whose social status is offended by that “threat to the social order.” The older narrator advises, That night, in the bath, replay in your head the final moment of your dance with Eric Cassio. Ignore the fact that he would not look at you that day. Relish the sting of bathwater on your cuts. Tell yourself that the moment with Eric was worth it. Twenty years later, you will still think so. The fact that ultimately we must deal with change and suffering alone is reiterated in “What We Save,” a story in which 14-year-old Helena visits Disney World with her sister and her mother. Helena’s mother is dying of cancer and has arranged to meet her high school boyfriend and his family at the magic kingdom that day. Trying to understand why her mother would need to do this, Helena confronts the reality of her mother as a person with layered existences, some of which are independent of her daughters, and all of which will soon be extinguished. Helena imagined that if she glanced behind her, she might see ‘a trail of things her mother had let fall: bits of iridescent fabric and glass, white petals, locks of hair. She seemed truerto herself finished with trying to make things appear different from the way they were. In what is ostensibly the collection’s title story, another young girl grapples with death and sorrow’s alienating truths. “The Isabel Fish” is narrated from the point of view of 14-year-old Maddy who has recently survived a car accident in which her friend, Isabel, drowned. Attempting to recover from the trauma of the accident and the guilt of surviving, Maddy tries to overcome her fear of water by taking scuba lessons where she will learn how to breathe underwater. Finely crafted and often deeply sad at their core, the nine stories that make up How to Breathe Underwater do the thing that good fiction always shouldthat is, to reproduce some of the uglier and simultaneously all-toocommon responses to living in a world that doesn’t care if we need a break. These stories provide a fictional space where we as readers can contemplate why people sometimes crumble and do the wrong thing. Orringer observes her characters’ failures and pain with neither judgment nor pity, and somehow writes these unsentimental tragedies in a way that lets the reader emerge, like Ella in “Pilgrims,” with an awareness that, for better or worse, change will come: She closed her eyes and followed the car in her mind down the streets that led to their house, until it seemed they had driven past their house long ago and were moving on to a place where strange beds awaited them, where they would fall asleep thinking of dark forests and wake to the lives of strangers. Lee Middleton is a fiction writer in the University of Texas’ Creative Writing Program. 1/16/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31