Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sundays: Julie Orringer’s “Care”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Each Sunday I’ll write about a short story available online. If you read the story, please add your thoughts in the comments!

When I started thinking about writing more on short stories, and then started thinking about writing more on short stories by Writers Who Aren’t Dead, Julie Orringer was one of the first I thought of looking up. This struck me as weird, because although I read her collection, How to Breathe Underwater, years ago, I don’t remember thinking much of her at the time or in ensuing years. This may be in part due to my suspicion of Writers with MFAs (Orringer has one from Iowa), but her name and her collection have stuck in my head long enough that it seemed time to revisit her.

And man, am I glad I did. You can find a decent number of Orringer’s stories online for free, and if you have the time and inclination it’s worth seeking them out. (Word to the wise, though: make sure to check they’re complete, because I’ve stumbled over some that are excerpts. Lengthy excerpts, but excerpts nonetheless.)

My favorite reread story by Orringer is “Care”, which appeared in her collection. It’s about a girl, Tessa, who is babysitting her sister’s daughter, Olivia, for the day, but also about the misdirections of life. Orringer hints at how Tessa’s life has veered off course and how she is trying to find her way back, but without belaboring the point, and the narrative tone is perfectly matched to Tessa’s mental state.

She feels something going wide and empty in her chest, the Devvie slipping out from beneath the Sallie, the cartoon moment just before you fall, when the cliff’s already gone but gravity has not yet got you.

There are also some fantastic descriptions of characters. On Tessa’s brother-in-law: “he is devoted to the study of imaginary numbers and to the building of handy gadgets.” On Tessa’s niece, Olivia: “She is a child cared for in great detail.” And some lines that are, more generally, just pitch-perfect, like when Tessa tells Olivia: “I’m your adult today.[…] I make the rules.”

Orringer may be a graduate of a creative writing program, but rereading her stories makes me want to take back all the bad things (well, some of the bad things) I’ve said or thought about these programs and the writers who attend them. Anything that can produce this sort of story, this sort of writer, is worth it.

What have you read by Orringer? Do you have a favorite story by her?

Read “Care.”