Nine fiercely beautiful, impossible-to-put-down stories from a young writer who has already received immediate worldwide attention. Julie Orringer’s characters–all of them submerged by loss, whether of parents or lovers or a viable relationship to the world in general–struggle mightily against the wildly engulfing forces that threaten to overtake us all. All of them learn, gloriously if at great cost, how to breathe underwater. 

In “Pilgrims,” a band of motherless children torment each other on Thanksgiving day. In “The Isabel Fish,” the sole survivor of a drowning accident takes up scuba diving. In “When She Is Old and I Am Famous,” a young woman confronts the inscrutable power of her cousin’s beauty (“Aïda. That is her terrible name. Ai-ee-duh: two cries of pain and one of stupidity”). In “The Smoothest Way Is Full of Stones,” the failure of religious and moral codes–to protect, to comfort, to offer solace–is seen through the eyes of a group of Orthodox Jewish adolescents discovering the irresistible power of their burgeoning sexuality. 

In story after story, Orringer captures moments when the dark contours of the adult world come sharply into focus: Here are young people abandoned to their own devices, thrust too soon into predicaments of insoluble difficulty, and left to fend for themselves against the wide variety of human trouble. Buoyed by the exquisite tenderness of remembered love, they learn to take up residence in this strange new territory, if not to transcend it, and to fashion from their grief new selves, new lives. Orringer’s debut collection blazes with emotion, with human appetite, with fortitude, with despair; these nine uncommonly wise and assured stories introduce an astonishing new talent.