In this debut story collection, a grandfather decides to replace animal power on his farm with tractors; two restless young girls live out their last summer of innocence, riding ponies recklessly and spying on their boss and the wealthy women who visit him; and men in the Tennessee woods hunt with GPS and cell phones, while the rumor of a dangerous panther on the loose stirs up a small town.
The title of the collection strikes an uncharacteristically mannered note — and belongs, curiously, to the one story set in the North — but it does convey the book’s underlying stance: given the state of things, staying alive is something a reasonable person might have to be talked into ... Love is the dark matter in these stories, visible mostly in some negative form, as in the title story, which documents the breakdown of a marriage in a nameless, snow-filled city ... The collection’s last story, 'Shadow on a Weary Land,' may be the most accomplished and memorable, with flashes of wit alongside its profundity ... 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.
The eight stories in Lydia Peelle’s debut collection are remarkable for their clarity and precision. Set primarily in the dwindling forests and farmland surrounding Nashville, Tennessee, they concern the estrangement between modern life and nature, unsettling the reader’s hope for an easy reconciliation between the two ... The [opening] story’s ending shows little indulgence for nostalgia and even less for caprice, a pattern that recurs in Peelle’s collection.
Peelle is an impressive prose stylist who focuses on human beings as members of communities, and the stories in Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing show how impoverished our collective life becomes when greed, neglect, and carelessness characterize human behavior ... Peelle doles out words as if they were scarce commodities, producing elliptical tales in which the occasional metaphor lights up an entire landscape ... Fine as Peelle’s dialog is, it’s often the small gesture that proves most revealing of character ... Peelle loses me only when she becomes overtly elegiac—those times I hear the violins whining plaintively in the background. Others may find some stories a tad too quiet. But her genius is to make scurrilous ne’er-do-wells into likeable, sympathetic characters.