I read the first story in Lydia Peelle’s Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing because this book of short stories came highly recommended by two people whose reading lists have rarely failed me. They know my distaste for fiction and are careful about what they suggest to me.
I don’t know why I kept reading. After the first two stories I might’ve said it was boring, but that’s not the right word, even as some of the same sensations occur with the right word: lulling. With every stumble into the life of another character, I found myself repeatedly thinking, oh what the hell, I might as well see it through. The stories lulled me, but not like a soothing song; rather like the voice of a childhood friend who’d stood by me all those years even as there was nothing she could’ve done to save me.
I thought I felt bored because it was a revisiting of experience – despair, weakness, fitful sleep, false hope, drudgery, buried hostilities, scarce bits of freedom. If you’ve worked through any issue from any part of your life you may feel impatient, disinterested, or indifferent when someone else struggles through the same with no desire or respect for advice or assistance. This is how I felt as I read through stories that seemed to want to say, “I know how you felt,” but really they did no such thing at all.
At one time, mine was a dull and dulled existence. Any desire I had to keep reading Reasons must’ve been because I could relate, therefore the stories must also be dull. But the stories weren’t dull, and the more I read the more I realized my stories aren’t either – at least not to me, anymore.
I’ve no desire to tell my stories. It was good enough to read about them, if only in pieces, if only through the cracks my mind’s eye still allows when looking back on those days.
Someone else might get bored reading Peele’s stories, and you don’t have to look far to see why. There are a good many in this world of much suffering who don’t suffer as a way of life and who have never suffered. What would they bring to Peele’s stories and what could they take from them? She doesn’t romanticize ugly truths or dress up old ways as new. There is no façade. For some this may prove to be a little painful, even from a distance. For others, it may prove there is less distance than they thought.