THE SOUND OF HOLD­ING YOUR BREATH

Natalie Sy­polt, West Vir­ginia Univer­sity Press (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $18.99 (156pp) 978-1-946684-57-8

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight | Debut Fiction - LETI­TIA MONT­GOMERY-RODGERS

Natalie Sy­polt’s The Sound of Hold­ing Your Breath finds peo­ple on the cusp, poised on the edge of change.

The col­lec­tion cap­tures a par­tic­u­lar Ap­palachian ex­pe­ri­ence—pre­dom­i­nantly that of ru­ral white work­ing-class men and women who are grow­ing up, mak­ing up, or break­ing up. Re­la­tion­ships vac­il­late be­tween col­li­sions and col­lu­sions, re­in­forced by the pat­tern of daily life: re­plac­ing the trailer’s wallpaper ev­ery spring when the old starts to peel, singing over CB call signs while dirt-road drink­ing and driv­ing, as­sem­bling the con­gre­ga­tion of a com­mu­nity both in and out of church, and nav­i­gat­ing the es­sen­tial, in­escapable con­fig­u­ra­tions of fam­ily. Re­gard­less of con­text, these frag­ments of shared his­tory hold a power to unite.

From a short win­dow into the ado­les­cence of a girl and the preacher’s son in “Flam­ing Je­sus” to two broth­ers and a crush that blooms into cru­elty in “At the Lake,” there’s a foun­da­tional, fun­da­men­tal wari­ness that per­me­ates these sto­ries, even those about child­hood. In adult­hood, that wari­ness finds ex­pres­sion in re­la­tion­ships, from an el­e­men­tary school teacher’s un­cer­tainty about her en­gage­ment and some ac­com­pa­ny­ing rash ac­tions in “Home Visit” to a wife whose mar­i­tal dis­tance dis­tills into stealth trips for cheese­burg­ers in “Let­tuce.”

Lives play out against a back­drop that’s al­ter­nately wild and cir­cum­scribed, su­per­fi­cially pleas­ant and se­cretly dark. The pres­sure that’s gen­er­ated seems in­evitable.

Full of in­evitabil­ity and res­ig­na­tion and haunted by themes of class, fam­ily, and place, The Sound of Hold­ing Your Breath pen­e­trates a deep-rooted con­sis­tency that’s both a com­fort and a curse.

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