Breathing Lessons

By Andy Sinclair

The title of Andy Sinclair’s debut novel refers to learning how to accept air as breath from another person, whether through artificial respiration or by sharing a joint. It’s a special type of breathing that’s involved, but once you get the hang of it, it’s as easy and natural as any other way of filling your lungs.

There may be some thematic significance to this, as the narrator of Breathing Lessons, Henry Moss, is a gay man at a time when being gay is no longer a marginal lifestyle. The world has adjusted, and now gays “are just like everybody else!” Except they’re “really, really into cock.”

What this means is that gay sex has become something as natural, and indeed mechanical as breathing. It’s best not to think about it too much, or become too involved with one’s partners. And so the book takes the form of a series of micro-love stories (or sex diary) as Henry tells of how he hooked up with Kevin, Jonas, Perry, Joe, Dillon, Bill, Ken, Jared, Eric, Alex, Ted, Benny, Sean, Brent, and Russ . . . all in 150 pages. If sex is like breathing, the pace here is breathless.

The point seems to be that none of this means much to Henry. His lovers are mere bodies, only especially muscled, chiseled and buff. Henry has an eye for these things, and even notices that his former high school gym teacher, now over 60, has six-pack abs. But no matter how much time they spend in the gym, Henry’s lovers just come and then go. He gets crushes of various degrees, but after the inevitable break-up he gets over them and moves on.

Henry himself is another fitness fanatic, and also one of those narrators who is a bit hard to take. He’s healthy, reasonably well off (albeit stuck in a series of going-nowhere jobs), has a loving, understanding family and a formidable sex and social life, but he’s in therapy and on drugs because he feels unfulfilled. Gazing over Henry’s scorecard, one can only share his sense that it doesn’t add up to much in the end.

The structure matches the theme. This is less a novel than a series of recollections in no real order, none of them contributing to any sense of an overall narrative. Sinclair is a brisk, engaging writer, but you get the feeling that this material would be better suited for a satire of beautiful young people running to stand still, their bodies endlessly cocked and reloading on the sexual treadmill of life.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, May 2015.

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