October 22, 2012


By Callan Wink
~7100 words

A twelve-year-old farm boy is charged by his father with ridding the barn of feral cats.

The feline infestation provides the pretext for this third-person narrative as the main character, Augie, searches for the most efficient extermination method. But the real story is Augie's precarious relationship with those closest to him. First, he stumbles upon the true nature of his father's association with a nineteen-year-old farmhand named Lisa:
And then, through the open doorway of the grain room, there was his father, thrusting behind Lisa, who was bent over a hay bale, her cheek and forearms pressed down into the cut ends of the hay. Their overalls were around their legs like shed exoskeletons, as if they were insects emerging, their conjoined bodies larval, soft and mottled.
Meanwhile, Augie's mother, who is banished to an adjacent house to make room for Lisa, spends her days in dimly lit rooms smoking, playing solitaire, and devoting herself to the flimflam of the eponymous "breatharians":
You can attune your mind and your body, Augie. Perfectly attune them by healthy living and meditation, so that you completely lose the food requirement. I mean, it's not just that you're not hungry. That's not too hard. I'm talking about getting to the point where all you have to do is breathe the air and you're satisfied.
Finally, there is the story of Augie's dog, Skyler, who chews through a jug of antifreeze and is found one afternoon "stretched out on his side with a greenish-blue froth discoloring his grayed muzzle." After much time and energy spent inefficiently clubbing the cats with a torque wrench, Augie is inspired by Skyler's death to set out bowls of antifreeze-laced milk in the barn. The plan works brilliantly:
The floor was carpeted with twisted feline forms—tabbies, calicos, some night-black, some pure white, intermingled and lumpy and irrevocably dead. They lay like pieces of dirty laundry where they'd fallen from their perches after the tainted milk had taken its hold on their guts.
"Breatharians" deserves considerable credit for its originality and beautiful language, but I find it a notch below Wink's debut TNY story, "Dog Run Moon" (which predated this blog). The narrative attempts to weave too many threads together, and the breatharian theme feels like a distraction (especially because of the prominence it's given in the title). Even so, this is a solid effort from a promising new voice in American fiction.

Satisfactory. Strong (modified 24 December 2012, explanation here).

Reader poll: I found "Breatharians" to be ___.

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