Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Review: Breathing Underwater by Lu Vickers

Lu Vickers
Breathing Underwater

Published by Alyson Books

Reviewed by Leon Fleming

The account of a young girl growing up in one of the less glamorous areas of Florida, and in this instance a place virtually on the border with Georgia, being forced to reconcile her being ‘different’ in a place where her outside world consists of one of the largest collections of mentally ill persons in the United States, and where the world interned within the walls of her own home are dominated by her mother, whose psychological state is in many cases possibly more seriously deranged than that of any of the patients in the hospital, is bound to make for an interesting, and in all likelihood, amusing read.

This work is certainly an amusing description of growing up gay in a world that is full of temptations but with very little understanding when it comes to anyone who may be a little different, even when most of the people in this real though fictionalised version of Chattahoochee are there because they have been deemed to be different, in mental terms at least.

It has many moments that are extremely well written, where the style utilised by this obviously very skilled and talented writer captures vividly the colours that lie behind the soft haze of forever moving family life. It is unfortunate then that this clarity of language is muddied slightly by the rather heavy and annoying overuse of one seemingly constant and obdurate metaphor; that of the protagonist’s life being one of living, or drowning, under water.

In many ways the lesbian, though not the sexual, aspect of this book; the difference made a point of throughout the novel; is somewhat inconsequential, as the story more forcefully encircles a space held by the girl and her mother; encapsulating the interesting, if severely disjointed, relationship between them. In fact, it could be argued that this story is really a curiously fascinating case study of a woman whom life has thrust children and family circumstances upon, and who doesn’t know what to do with them now that she has them, while her mental capabilities are becoming further and further removed from her own life and the relationships within it; making her the most exciting, yet troubling, character in this novel.

This is a pretty easy book to read, and one that is also easy to enjoy; even though it perhaps doesn’t go very far, and possibly doesn’t delve to the great depths of emotion that the author aspires to examine.

For anyone who likes personal accounts or this type of fictional autobiography, then this book would make a very pleasant addition to your collection. No matter how well this book is written however, it is still a coming-of-age type account of growing up in difficult circumstances, and one that has been written both well and badly many times before.

Leon Fleming lives on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, where he writes short stories, stage plays and the odd article, and he is currently working on his first novel. More information regarding Leon’s work, along with samples of it, can be found at his website: http://www.leonfleming.co.uk

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