Reviews for Breathe

Publishers Weekly
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Shards of nightmarish grief coalesce in Oates’s powerful latest (after The (Other) You), a fever dream unleashed when a woman fails to come to terms with the death of her husband. As the story opens, memoir writer Michaela wills her older, very ill husband, Gerard McManus, a distinguished historian of science, to breathe. Midway through the book, he succumbs to his multiple maladies: pneumonia, lung cancer, and a urethral tumor. Michaela then finds his death impossible to believe, or to accept. Overwhelmed, she drifts and is jerked in and out of reality. Sometimes she is unsure if Gerard is really dead; she sees him in other men, and believes Gerard is compelling her to follow each one. She is terrified by statues of Pueblo gods that decorate the house they’d rented together, yet cannot bear to leave. These gods—and other myths, that of Eurydice and Orpheus for one—inhabit her dreams and obsess Michaela as she spirals into a surreal and open-ended denouement that will be hotly debated by readers. Fecund with fear and anguish, and driven by raw, breathless narration, this hallucinatory tale will not disappoint. Oates is on a roll. (Aug.)


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Oates presents a work of psychological terror grounded in marital love. Gerard and Michaela, a distinguished neuroscience professor and his much-younger second wife, relocate from Cambridge to New Mexico for a prestigious academic residency. Soon after, he falls ill and is eventually diagnosed with terminal cancer. As his physical condition deteriorates, so does Michaela’s emotional state. Struggling to keep her husband alive through sheer force of will, she is haunted by the surreal landscape of the surrounding desert and the nightmarish depictions of local tribal gods that decorate their rental house. Her only respite from Gerard’s illness is the weekly memoir-writing class she teaches in a nearby city, but even this brief absence comes to feel like an abandonment for which she will be—or is already being--punished. A fictional counterpart to Oates’ memoir A Widow’s Story (2011), which explores the aftermath of her first husband’s sudden death, Breathe will appeal to fans of intensely interiorized literary fiction, psychological suspense like Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant (2018), and searing explorations of grief and loss like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005).


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Oates presents a work of psychological terror grounded in marital love. Gerard and Michaela, a distinguished neuroscience professor and his much-younger second wife, relocate from Cambridge to New Mexico for a prestigious academic residency. Soon after, he falls ill and is eventually diagnosed with terminal cancer. As his physical condition deteriorates, so does Michaela’s emotional state. Struggling to keep her husband alive through sheer force of will, she is haunted by the surreal landscape of the surrounding desert and the nightmarish depictions of local tribal gods that decorate their rental house. Her only respite from Gerard’s illness is the weekly memoir-writing class she teaches in a nearby city, but even this brief absence comes to feel like an abandonment for which she will be—or is already being--punished. A fictional counterpart to Oates’ memoir A Widow’s Story (2011), which explores the aftermath of her first husband’s sudden death, Breathe will appeal to fans of intensely interiorized literary fiction, psychological suspense like Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant (2018), and searing explorations of grief and loss like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005).

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