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"Breathe" group discussion > "Breathe" first third of novel

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message 1: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Hi all:

For those who are still reading Mermaid Cafe, please continue chatting on that thread. If you've read the first third of Breathe, chime in here. Please don't give away any spoilers beyond the first third.

I'm enjoying the novel a lot, which of course I suspected I would since it's similar in many ways to my own novel. Hope you all are liking it, too.

I'm posting a number of questions. As always, this is not school. Just answer the questions that appeal to you.

1) What did you think of Tripp's sudden decision to leave Alex for a yoga teacher? In retrospect, were you surprised? Should she have been?

2) When Alex finally decides to take up yoga herself (was that realistic?), she winds up in Galen's class. Have you ever taken a yoga class like that? If so, was it fun or horrifying?

3) From the beginning, Andy seems to be a bit too good to be true. Do you find him a believable character? Are you rooting for him and Alex to get together? Do you think that's inevitable? What do you like most about Andy?

4) Alex decides she's in love with Galen and so takes private yoga lessons with Giovanni so she can get good enough to impress Galen. What do you think of this plot point? Have you ever wanted to improve your own yoga to impress someone, or even yourself?

5) Alex has good friends in Jenny and Nancy. Good friends are always important in women's fiction. Do you think they're also important in life? How do you feel about these women imposing their own agenda (e.g., yoga) on Alex?

6) Anybody have a mother in law like Louise? Are you able to be more yogic/loving/spiritual than Alex is towards her, or is she so insufferable even the Dalai Lama would find her a challenge?


message 2: by Arlene (new)

Arlene | 3 comments 4) Alex decides she's in love with Galen and so takes private yoga lessons with Giovanni so she can get good enough to impress Galen. What do you think of this plot point? Have you ever wanted to improve your own yoga to impress someone, or even yourself?

I have finished the book, it was a quick and pleasant read, but coming at it from the viewpoint and life experience of a 61 year old, I found this part of the plot a little shallow. I don't want to see any young woman caught up in this kind of insecurity or fantasy. I wanted her to have more confidence in herself. At least that is how I want life to be, I realize it doesn't always happen.


message 3: by Robert Steven (new)

Robert Steven Goldstein | 19 comments Arlene, I found your comment quite interesting. I, too, am in my 60’s, and my reactions to some of Alex’s choices most definitely leaned toward parental in nature. The book’s style is so engaging, and Alex is so charming and irresistibly likable, that I immediately found myself reacting to poor decisions on her part, not judgmentally as a reader, but more as I did for years as a father, while my daughter grew into adulthood (my daughter is now close to forty). No matter what a father may say or think, so many of these life lessons just have to be learned firsthand. I certainly always hoped that Alex’s crashes wouldn’t be too seriously injurious, but given Alex’s dogged tenacity, such fears on my part seem to be proving sweetly unfounded as the book progresses.


message 4: by Arlene (new)

Arlene | 3 comments Thanks for your insightful reply Robert. I have 2 daughters, 32 and 26, so I'm definitely reacting with motherly instincts!


message 5: by Robert Steven (new)

Robert Steven Goldstein | 19 comments I’m finding the novel extraordinarily engaging and absorbing. The writing style makes for easy reading, and the characters are well drawn and intriguing.

I’m going to try to tackle a conglomerate of three of Meryl’s questions: #1 involving Tripp, #3 involving Andy, and #4 involving Galen. All three of these men have captured Alex’s interest at one point or another; I think their traits and behaviors have as much to say about Alex’s personal growth and maturity as they do about the male characters themselves.

Tripp (who has to be considered as part of a gestalt that includes his family baggage) decides suddenly to leave Alex for an alluring Yoga teacher. Is this a surprise? Perhaps only that it occurred so relatively early in their marriage, but it seems pretty clear that this marriage was doomed from the outset. The situation says more, I think, about Alex not yet having any sort of clear image of her own self-identity, who she is and what she needs. I do not in any way find myself hoping that she will reunite with Tripp.

In her vulnerable state, Alex bounces from her sense of anger and loss with Tripp to an unlikely infatuation with Galen. Handsome, charismatic, and gentle, he is an appealing fellow no doubt, but I’m not certain this is a realistic target for Alex. The recurring theme of Yoga, first instrumental in her marriage’s breakup, and now her chosen vehicle to win Galen’s attention, is intrinsically a wonderful thing for Alex to discover, but she’s using it here for all the wrong reasons: to try to avenge Tripp’s betrayal, and to impress Galen into developing intimate feelings toward her. Again, irrepressibly likeable as Alex is, these are obviously misplaced motivations; her insecurity and immaturity are causing her to make the same mistake with Galen that she did with Tripp: to try to become their ideal rather than finding a partner interested in who she herself truly is.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book for me is Alex’s dogged and indomitable will. No matter how many mistakes she makes, or how miserable she may feel at a given moment, she seems to carry an underlying belief that perseverance leads one to their chosen goals. That sense is kept alive skillfully by the authors, and sustains the readers’ energy through those periods when one might wish to reach into the pages, grab Alex by the shoulders, and scream, “Please, get a clue girl!”

This sensibility is repeatedly evoked, for me, in Alex’s periodic interactions with Andy. Why does she continue to reach for her imagined, idealized consummation with Galen when someone willing to love her for exactly who she is persistently and charmingly presented to her? Because she herself doesn’t yet know or understand who she is, so she cannot fathom anyone else somehow seeing through the layers into her real self. We’ve all been there as we’ve grown; it’s just sad and frustrating for me to see it in Alex, who, via the authors’ skill, has already attached herself to me as a daughter or friend whose wellbeing is important to me.


message 6: by Kate (new)

Kate Bishop (breathebykatebishop) | 24 comments Hi all,

Kristin of the Kate Bishop 3 here! Thank you for this fantastic discussion. Meryl, great questions as usual! Robert, I so enjoyed all of your thoughts on Mermaid Cafe. Thank you, for such a detailed and thoughtful exploration of the beginning of 'Breathe.' Arlene, I am a mother of two small children, and I cringe to think of all the trials down the road. I find much solace in speaking with parents whose children have grown! It seems that no matter my intentions, I tend to muddy the waters of parenting with my own "stuff." And I am completely unaware until my children become the shiny little mirrors they are :-) Alex's mom is pretty great, right? Alex's upbringing seems almost idilic, but still she does not enter adulthood on solid footing. Oooo...realize I might be getting ahead of myself here. Look forward to hearing what you think of Alex's mom...later!

Back to the first third and subject of Alex's insecurity and inability to choose what's clearly right for her....The collective authors are fast-approaching forty (one month for me!), but the lingering confusion of our twenties was made fresh by so many of our lovely young yoga students. (We were/are yoga teachers.) Alex's journey and the condition of her psyche early in the book is reflective of not only our personal journeys, but also those we were privy to as yoga teachers. So many of our young students stumbled into yoga after a devastating break-up, the loss of a job or loved one, or a serious case of "who am I" and "what's the point here." It was beautiful to watch the transformation as women (and men) committed to their practice and themselves. The tricky aspect of writing a personal transformation novel is making the the character likable and relatable enough early on to keep the reader connected - because as we all know when we are suffering, we have a tendency to be insufferable! Meryl, you do this beautifully with the development of Lorna. It is so difficult to watch someone you love suffer, especially when you can so clearly see the way out- yet the loved one doesn't seem to have a clue that they are completely amiss.

Must run! Off to attempt to teach 26 eight-year-olds with summer -itis. Thank you again for reading 'Breathe' and participating in this discussion. Needless to say, it is very rewarding for us!

(On one last note, it probably goes without saying, but feel free to be very honest. I, by no means, want author participation to hinder forthright discussion!)

Kristin of the Kate Bishop 3


message 7: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Hi all:

Thanks for weighing in so far. And thanks to Author Kristin for her commentary, too. (For those who don't know, Kate Bishop is actually three women.) I usually invite the author to come in after the bulk of the discussion has happened so others don't stifle their criticism. But Kristin is a member of this Goodreads group; as she says, though, please feel free to state both your likes and dislikes.

Also feel free to ask Kristin any questions directly. One I have is about the process used for the three of you to write one book. How did you logistically do this? All in one room together? Dividing up the chapters? One writing first draft and others reusing? Bravo to you in that the voice seems seamless (at least so far).

I agree with Kristin that one of the biggest challenges in this type of novel is to make the protagonist likable even before she grows into someone deeper. I think this book does that well at the beginning, by making her, as Robert says, someone who doesn't really know herself. And I do think that's why she is so easily taken with both Tripp and Galen, even though I found the Galen infatuation a bit implausible, since she mocked her husband's infatuation with Lauren.

I also like the girlfriends, and the fact that Jenny stays with her even though Alex left Marin county. A good girlfriend is key to every good novel, IMO. :)


message 8: by Iris (new)

Iris Tripp left Alex for a yoga instructor? Not likely. Tripp might redirect his affections from Alex to another woman after such a short time, but it’s not so easy to believe that the yoga instructor would have participated in such a serious deception. Also, if Tripp has started on the yoga path, I don’t feel that he would give up on Alex so easily. I suspect that Alex could be mistaken because she’s thinking that yoga is an exercise cult and hasn’t a clue about the spiritual, philosophical aspects of the practice. It’s easier to see Alex lusting for Galen after one class because she’s just so confused and clueless and desperately needing to re-direct her love and devotion. Galen and the private lessons with Giovanni keep her connected to Tripp in a strange way. I think she's working to win him back, even if she's not admitting that to herself. About Andy… not un-believable, but single? Not likely. There’s gotta be a back story here, and I’m thinking that Andy may not be un-attached. Alex’s girlfriends Jenny and Nancy are terrific and more credible characters than any of the men. So is Louise. I’ve not had a mother-in-law like her, but I do remember a couple of boyfriends whose mothers definitely didn’t approve of their sons’ choice of girlfriends, and Louise helps to account for Tripp’s abandonment of Alex. This is a fun read so far.


message 9: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 40 comments 1) What did you think of Tripp's sudden decision to leave Alex for a yoga teacher? In retrospect, were you surprised? Should she have been?

I was not at all surprised that Tripp "fell" for his yoga instructor and left Alex. It seems like a pattern for him much like how he "fell" for Alex and had a whirlwind courtship and trip down the isle.


3) From the beginning, Andy seems to be a bit too good to be true. Do you find him a believable character? Are you rooting for him and Alex to get together? Do you think that's inevitable? What do you like most about Andy?

I do find Andy believable, a bit too good to be true, but believable ;) There are fantastic people out there and Alex is a lucky girl to catch his eye I am completely rooting for them!

4) Alex decides she's in love with Galen and so takes private yoga lessons with Giovanni so she can get good enough to impress Galen. What do you think of this plot point? Have you ever wanted to improve your own yoga to impress someone, or even yourself?

I always want to impress myself with my yoga practice, but just rolling out my mat is impressive to me! I am in awe of my practice and am proud of myself every time I am able to carve out some time in my life to just be me.


6) Anybody have a mother in law like Louise? Are you able to be more yogic/loving/spiritual than Alex is towards her, or is she so insufferable even the Dalai Lama would find her a challenge?

Good luck to the Dalai Lama if he can take on my MIL ;)
I prefer to just live and let live, I have no desire to change the way she treats me but I choose to change how I react. And it helps to keep my distance...many miles and states between us is a blessing.


message 10: by Robyn (last edited Jul 02, 2013 06:40PM) (new)

Robyn (robynvinessmith) | 6 comments I'm a bit late to the party. I think I'm most of the way through the book now and I'm liking it a lot. Thanks for the suggestion!

-----------------------------------------------

1) What did you think of Tripp's sudden decision to leave Alex for a yoga teacher? In retrospect, were you surprised? Should she have been?

Well, I thought it was a little weird that they've been married such a short time and already he's completely changed so much that he no longer feels they are compatible. But in a more general sense, I can sort of understand that feeling of trying to improve oneself and feeling that your spouse isn't understanding or on the same page and that this is putting distance between you. That's kind of the case in my own marriage, though we've been together for 11 years and therefore have had a lot of time to become different people from who we were when we met.

2) When Alex finally decides to take up yoga herself (was that realistic?), she winds up in Galen's class. Have you ever taken a yoga class like that? If so, was it fun or horrifying?

I, unfortunately, practice at home and not a studio. I didn't take up yoga until I had a toddler, and most studios don't have child care, so no. I think the way the class was described (the lines and the people in them) sounds kinda awful. Also, I found it rather unrealistic that Alex went from "never did yoga before" to "advanced yogi" in a couple of months of a few lessons a week.

3) From the beginning, Andy seems to be a bit too good to be true. Do you find him a believable character? Are you rooting for him and Alex to get together? Do you think that's inevitable? What do you like most about Andy?

He does seem a bit too good to be true, but very likeable and I get mad at how Alex keeps blowing him off. She becomes a little annoying sometimes.

4) Alex decides she's in love with Galen and so takes private yoga lessons with Giovanni so she can get good enough to impress Galen. What do you think of this plot point? Have you ever wanted to improve your own yoga to impress someone, or even yourself?

To the second part of the question, no. I didn't understand why she did this. I don't think Galen would judge whether he was willing to date someone based on their yoga expertise, especially since he already saw her and knew she was brand new to it. Also, if she wanted his attention, why not keep doing it as a newbie so he'd have to help her a lot in class?

***edited to fix misspelling typo


message 11: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Good observations, Robyn. I especially like your point that she might have gotten more attention from Galen had she stayed a newbie.


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