Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Benefits of Breathing - Christopher Meeks

The Benefits of Breathing is the first short story collection from Christopher Meeks since 2008’s Months and Seasons. In the meantime, Meeks has written five novels, but fans of his shorter work will tell you that it’s been way too long between short story anthologies to suit them.

This time around, Meeks delves into the romantic complexities between men and women that, over time, are likely to plague us all. Long-term relationships are not easy, and as so many of us have learned the hard way, they often end in the kind of failure that will haunt us for the rest of our lives. The Benefits of Breathing is not some feel-good romantic fantasy of a book; this is about the real world. Among its eleven stories are instances of love needlessly discarded, love lost, love settled for, love that withers and dies, love squandered, love that backfires, and love nipped in the bud. But not all of the stories, including my favorite of them all, “Nestor by the Numbers,” end in failure, despite the emotional trauma suffered by the narrators along the way. These are stories  about life the way most of us live it, complete with all of its ups and downs; it’s about people like you and me. It’s about life in the twenty-first century, and surprisingly enough considering its overall tone, this is a collection that includes a good bit of optimism and hope.

Christopher Meeks
I found several of the stories to be particularly memorable, but I suspect that other readers are going to do the same with an entirely different list of stories than the one I created for myself as I read the collection. Among my personal favorites is the opener, “Joni Paredes,” in which a still-young woman is wary of the romantic-gold she discovers at her daughter’s wedding reception. Another is a story with a bit of a surprise ending that had me hooked as soon as I read its title, “I’d Rather Die Than Go to North Dakota.”
And then, there’s the title story itself, “The Benefits of Breathing,” that speaks to the power of persevering until the right one finally comes along.

But my favorite story is the longest one in the collection, “Nestor by the Numbers,” a story about a man whose wife decides on their twentieth anniversary that their marriage is over. The man’s ensuing experiences as he works his way through more than twenty potential partners via online dating services are both hilarious and poignant – sometimes, believe it or not, at the same time. I completely lost myself in this one and hated to see it end.

Bottom Line: The Benefits of Breathing is an interesting and entertaining collection of short stories about who we are and how we relate to the opposite sex – whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not. It was worth the wait.

Advanced Reading Copy provided by Publisher/Author for Review Purposes

2 comments:

  1. A good short story collection can be a pleasure to read. I seem to be reading more and more these days which is good because I own a lot! Currently reading Fireside Gothic by Andrew Taylor which has 3 long short stories in it, the first of which was terrific. The Benefits of Breathing sounds excellent too.

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    1. "The Benefits of Breathing" is really good, Cath. Meeks always has a distinct theme in his collections, and even in the order of the stories, and I find that both interesting and fun.

      I love short story collections, too, and read something like 10-12 collections a year of them. This year I'm a little behind that pace as this is only the third collection I've managed to find. I used to buy "The Best American Short Stories" collection every year, but I haven't done that for the last couple of years...don't know why.

      Fireside Gothic sounds good to me because I prefer longer short stories to those of only half a dozen pages or so. There's something about a 50-75-page length that seems to bring out the best in some writers. Same with novellas for me in some cases; about the only Stephen King work I can read anymore is his novella work.

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