Breathe, Breathe by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi
Unnerving (October 2017)
176 pages, $13 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi is an author, writer, journalist, editor, marketer, public relations professional, and photographer. Her first collection, Breathe, Breathe, published by Unnerving Magazine, was released to wide acclaim. This collection of short stories and poetry reached #2 on the Amazon paid Hot New Release Bestseller list, right behind New York Times Bestseller Rupi Kaur’s second book that came out at around the same time. It is a very accessible collection, though it often fails to deliver in terms of craft.
Breathe, Breathe is primarily a narrative collection. It has a section of fiction, and most of the poems are written as narrative fictions as well. Al-Mehairi is clearly comfortable with the narrative mode. The short story section of the book has pieces ranging from flash length all the way up to full short stories. They are very solid pieces, and while some readers might find them to be a little rough and unpolished, they are still enjoyable. Al-Mehairi creates engaging characters and often has twists to her plots that make for a unique reading experience. The highlight of this section would be the story “Dandelion Yellow,” a magical realist tale about a young girl and her box of crayons. It’s a rich, colorful tale with a suspenseful build up and haunting ending. Overall, the fiction section of the book is very well done.
However, the poetry section of the book is not as strong. Al-Mehairi, at ease with the sentences of prose, attempts to write poetry in a similar vein. Unfortunately, as with all poetry that imitates prose, the key elements one looks for—imagery, metaphor, juxtaposition, rhythm, meter, etc.—aren’t present. Many of the poems are simply lacking in the elements one would expect. Al-Mehairi’s poems are very focused on plot and not enough on craft.
If readers are going to pursue Breathe, Breathe, I’d suggest they do it for the prose section. The stories there are fairly solid and are successful enough to keep the casual reader engaged. For readers looking for a collection of good horror poetry, though, this book might disappoint.