One thought on ““Breathe,” by Cassandra Khaw”

  1. Personal preference: I dislike 2nd person unless there’s a really good reason for it. There isn’t here, I don’t think; it’s just a gimmick to try to pull the reader into the story. Trying too hard, just like like the extravagant language that’s sometimes just not apt (what the heck is it supposed to mean that "a telomere of music drips through the com-link"? And, in "Growing. Growing. Until it infiltrates every tissue, infests every tendon, invades every delicate, pustulant alveoli." I really think "pustulant" (forming pustules) is not the right word.)

    But thematically, what is going on in this story? It is intended to be a depiction of how a mind works in an extremely stressful situation. The waves of panic, the fixation on certain details, the emotions evoked by talking over the com-link. It is greatly to Alice’s credit that she is able to take decisive action at the end of the story, and that she is able to separate her thinking from Theo’s to do so, when was previously coaching her through everything.

    The religious dimension, though… Alice is stated to have previously abandoned religion, but during the events of this story she definitely hasn’t. Numerous times she thinks in religious terms. It would take too much space to list them — an exercise for other readers. You could see the ending as a very Christian martyrdom I guess; perhaps literally divinely inspired, if you read the figures glimpsed at the end as angels coaching her through, like her previous human guide.

    Edited to add: it occurs to me that the reason the story is in the second person could be that it is told by someone intimately close to Alice, paying sympathetic attention to her: that is, God or a guardian angel. Isabel Yap did something like that in "The Oiran’s Song" and it worked, but here the idea seems too sentimental to me.

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