The title of Andy Sinclair’s debut novel refers to the experience of accepting air from another person, whether through artificial respiration or by sharing a joint. A special type of breathing is 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 considered a marginal lifestyle. The world has adjusted, and now gays “are just like everybody else!” Except, they’re “really, really into cock.”
For Moss, sex has become something as natural, indeed mechanical, as breathing. The book takes the form of a series of micro–love stories (or a sex diary), as Henry tells of hooking up with Kevin, Jonas, Perry, Joe, Dillon, Bill, Ken, Jared, Eric, Alex, Ted, Benny, Sean, Brent, and Russ … all in a scant 180 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 these ones are especially muscled, chiselled, and buff. Henry has an eye for these attributes, 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 come and then go. He gets crushes of various degrees, but after the inevitable breakup he gets over them and moves on.
Henry himself, another fitness fanatic, is 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), with a loving, understanding family and a formidable 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
The book’s 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 to a satire of beautiful young people running to stand still, their bodies endlessly cocked and reloading on the sexual treadmill of life.