Book Review : "Breathing Underwater"

Breathing UnderwaterBreathing Underwater by Lu Vickers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lu Vickers can write--that's not the problem here. There isn't a tired phrase or a clanking paragraph anywhere in this novel about a girl growing up in the Florida panhandle in the 1970's. And Lily's slowly dawning realization about who she is is fine by me--I love a nice lesbian love story, though what there is of that is pretty darn scant. The problem here, for me, was that I just didn't like Lily very much and that made it hard to care very much about her. I didn't like her when she threw a rock at a caged monkey. I didn't like her when she beat the living bejesus out of her little sister. I didn't like her when she wanted to hurt the boy next door, annoying and wrong for her though he was. Oh yes, she has her reasons for being angry. Don't we all. That didn't excuse her mean streak.

The real main character in this story isn't even Lily at all. Her bipolar mother is, though Lily is the protagonist. Lily's mother is a woman who had pretty shallow dreams, but they were her dreams and when they were disappointed, she took it out on both herself and her family, with Lily becoming a special target for "not being the right kind of girl." I did love the line "She couldn't get inside me and make me different." I was the wrong kind of girl too, and fought the same battle with my own mother, so I could relate. I admired her will to be true to herself and her resiliency in the face of having repeated AFGO's. (Another F**king Growth Opportunity.) But I still didn't really like her.

The other main character here is the Florida panhandle in all its heat, kitsch and glory. While well drawn, the setting is like Lily herself in that it lacked something, lacked anything really valuable except a mulish will to keep on keepin on. So, if you want to read a good southern novel with quirky characters, try something by Joshilyn Jackson, not this. Not recommended.

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hedgewitch said…
As always, I enjoy the way you quickly and efficiently sum up what's important to know about this book,even though I would never pick it up myself. I just enjoy seeing you in your element of words, analyzing why they do or do not work the way they should. I can easily believe that you could never relate to someone who threw rocks at a monkey, or any other animal, no matter how much the character's own depth of pain, and I totally agree--not likable, not a fictional someone you want to carry around inside your head. Excellent review, dear Shay.