The Breathing Method is the least known of the four novellas in Different Seasons and the only one not made into a movie. That said, it is a powerful story. Its subtitle, "A Winter's Tale," is appropriate, given the structure of the story. The narrator is a lawyer who has joined a gentleman's club. Like "the Chowder Society," in Peter Straub's Ghost Story, the club members tell each other remarkable stories. On Christmas Eve Dr. McCarron tells his.
The fact that the action is a story told by an elderly doctor has several effects. First, the story is, literally, a winter's tale. Second, the fact that an elderly doctor is making a point of telling this story foreshadows the just how unusual it is. Consider that Dr. McCarron, as an obstetrician, has undoubtedly worked with thousands of patients in his life. Most have probably delivered babies unremarkably. A few mothers and babies have probably died along the way from, though tragic, perfectly natural causes. That he would focus on one particular case suggests that what happened to Sandra Stansfield was remarkable.
Dr. McCarron loving descriptions of Sandra throughout the story, suggest both admiration and unrequited love for the unwed mother. His storytelling, however, also returns to his sense of foreboding regarding Sandra, a sense that she is doomed. The impression you get is that Sandra's loveliness and the doctor's connection with her are made poignant by the very fact that she is fated to die and both she and Dr. McCarron could sense that. She's like a cut flower that is lovely but destined to wilt. The fact that the doctor's sense of foreboding is so strong also foreshadows not only Sandra's death but the supernatural nature of it.
Sandra learns Dr. McCarron's "breathing method" for childbirth and when she is decapitated on the way to the hospital, the method seems to play a role in the miraculous refusal of her body to die. She continues following the breathing method with some kind of supernatural connection between her head and body. It's almost as if the breathing method becomes her way of blocking out the fact that she is already dead so that she can give birth. After Dr. McCarron delivers the baby at the crash site, she says "Thank you" from both her head and body, sees her baby once and then dies. Naturally, given his role in events, the doctor feels connected to the child and follows his path through life, finally meeting him in his older years. This detail, however, also reinforces the sense of authenticity that the story has.
Closing with a return to the firelit room where the doctor finishes telling his tale brings the reader back to the present. But beyond this obvious function, it also enhances the unexplainable nature of what happened. Dr. McCarron is a successful older man, a student of science and not someone prone to telling fantastic tales or believing in miracles. Having such a narrator makes you think of how you would react hearing an impossible story from someone you trust, like your own father.
This same effect of foreshadowing suspense by having a reliable narrator has been used with powerful resonance in other horror and fantasy stories. The aforementioned Chowder Society of old men telling their own horror stories has a chilling effect at the outset of an otherwise terrifying novel. It makes you think that if these old men are so terrified of the force that takes over their town, you definitely should be. In "Game of Thrones." Stories of the North, the long night and the white walkers are told early on in the series by several elders, shocking their younger listeners into silence. The legends of such things are almost scarier than the white walkers themselves. When the Archmaester of the Citadel tells Samwell Tarley that the Wall has withstood all dangers in the past, it makes it that much more terrifying when the Night King brings the wall crumbling down. It tells the viewer: "We're off the map of shared human experience now and whatever happens will be like nothing anyone has ever seen before."