August has been given the task of killing the many feral cats in the barn and around the hay stacks. The story is told in a close third-person POV. His mother took to staying at the old house below the pointed roof new house built by August's father. Lisa, a hired farm hand, has been staying at the farm since August's mother put a stop to her son doing farm work such as milking the cows. There is an obvious disconnect between the mother and father in the raising of the twelve-year old August, nicknamed Augie. The one thing that August loved, his dog Skylar, died after getting into car anti-freeze. Later Augie uses anti-freeze mixed with milk to kill the multitudes of cats.
August's mother tells him that she's decided to become a breatharian, hence the title of the story. There is some discussion between them about words and naming things. "I don't think things really exist until we can name them." I suppose the point of the story is that people intake what is around them and process it and that is our sustenance, that which is all around us like air.
The two houses represent options for August. He can decide how he wants to live. Pragmatic in the new house or spiritual in the old house. The dog given to him when he was born died accidentally at the time in August's life when a big change happened in his life as well.
"Breatharians" in the plural form must mean that it is not just August's mother who is attempting not to need food or water. I'm not sure why it's plural. Unless, maybe it refers to August as well because he is attempting to make sense, spiritual quest, of his world, his parents and Lisa.
"Breatharians" was first published in The New Yorker and then included in the 2013 anthology, Best American Short Stories.
discussion at the New Yorker with Wink