Tuesday, March 15, 2011

IF I LOVED YOU, I WOULD TELL YOU THIS: STORIES by Robin Black (2010) Random House, 268 pages

Richard Ford says that in literature he found belonging. That literature made him believe in a better place.

His statement has never been truer for me than between the pages of this debut collection of short stories. There were moments that I felt as if Robin Black were whispering in my ear truths about my own life, both those obviously known to the world around me and those I hold secretly in my heart.

In each of the pieces in IF I LOVED YOU, I WOULD TELL YOU THIS there are characters coming face to face with real transitions in their lives, moments that are tender and agonizing. For example, in "The Guide" a protective father must offer up to his blind daughter on the cusp of college an opportunity to forge independence; in "If I Loved You" a middle-aged couple struggles with terminal illness and the complication of telling a developmentally delayed son; in "Immortalizing John Parker" a portraitist mourns the loss of a love affair while realizing her subject is dying and wonders about letting go of her past; in "Tableau Vivant a mother worries about her adult daughter's infidelity; in "The History of the World" a recently separated woman finds herself in crisis after an accident while traveling in Italy and discovers through the kindness of a stranger that her lifelong assumptions about herself just might not be true.

Black's hand tapped me on the shoulder and swiveled my head when she wrote in "Divorced, Beheaded, Survived,"

"The truth is that sometimes even more than a day goes by before I remember to think of my brother. It's only natural, I've told myself, time and time again. It's human nature, I've thought--as though there's consolation to be found in that. And maybe there is. Maybe it's a gift to be able to let go of the remembering."

Just as the rare faint scent of Fleurs de Rocaille (my grandmother's perfume) will turn my head on a street, in a theatre, in a bookshop, hopeful in that olfactory moment that she'll round the corner even though she's been gone for 16 years, Black's words bring me to my only brother and how my life "changed utterly" (to reference Yeats) after his accidental death in 1994.

In a recent post Black wrote for Beyond the Margins she explained that there is "the point at which an author gives the story to the reader. Here, I am finished. It belongs to you now. Do with it what you will." That leap of collaborative faith between the writer and the reader is part of the magic of fine fiction. Fiction that helps you find belonging and believe in a better place.

Robin Black's exquisitely drawn portraits of flawed people like you and me in IF I LOVED YOU, I WOULD TELL YOU THIS will indeed give you pause. Your heart will skip a beat, or two, and you'll feel all the finer for it.


Kathleen said...

Yes. Exactly.
Thanks for a great review of a story collection I love and which whispered to me too.

Janet said...

These stories will continue to resonate with me for a long long while, Kathleen.

Bonnie said...

What a perfect review for a perfect collection of stories. Thanks.

Katherine Govier said...

Okay Janet you've convinced me this is wonderful. I'd better go out and get it!

Beth Hoffman said...

Wonderful review, Janet. I loved this collection.