“The Sound of Holding Your Breath,” by Natalie Sypolt

Natalie Sypolt

Reviewed by Phyllis Wilson Moore   

The title of Natalie Sypolt’s first short story collection, The Sound of Holding Your Breath: Stories, caught my attention. Just what is the sound of holding your breath?

According to the young and newly married Marley, the protagonist in the title story, nothingness is the loudest sound in her home. Nothingness… the sound of holding your breath.

Marley, an intriguing character, admits to sometimes feeling off her axis, wobbly, or spinning. She is one of the off-beat but well-drawn characters in the fourteen stories in this collection. Many of the narrators in the collection, like Marley, are young.  Many, like Marley, are troubled.

Set in the small, fictitious town of Warm, West Virginia, the residents are deeply connected to their heritage. They are known to each other. They share school experiences, graveyards, restaurants, and sometimes relatives.

Sypolt allows us glimpses into the lives of newlyweds, rape victims, veterans of wars, new parents, and more. These stories, often gut wrenching, are sprinkled with beautiful sentences and thought provoking phrases: “we are our stain, the stain we made,” for instance, or “[w]e were put on the road to this moment a long time ago.”

The collection ends with helpful reading and discussion questions that explore themes of identity, class, and place.  Both the young narrators and the small-town life will appeal to many readers.

Natalie Sypolt is an assistant professor at Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont, West Virginia. A native of Preston County, West Virginia, she holds an MFA in Fiction from West Virginia University. Active in the Appalachian region’s writing community, she is the literary editor of an anthology of Appalachian writing published by West Virginia’s Shepherd University and oversees the summer high school level writers’ project held in conjunction with the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop in Morgantown. She has presented at the yearly West Virginia Writers, Inc. Conference, and her work appears in literary journals, including Kenyon Review and Glimmer Train.

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