Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Review: If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
hardcover, $24.00, published 2010
paperback release, April 26, 2011
This is one of the most accomplished collections of short stories that I've read, and If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This reminded me of all that there is to love in stories. The beautiful completeness of the form, the spareness, the way the inessential is stripped away, and yet you still have life. If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This is Robin Black's debut collection, and in it she finds just the right tightrope balance between the ordinary and the unexpected. The opening story in the collection, "The Guide," is about a father and his blind daughter traveling to meet her guide dog--the father's replacement really. Everything in the story is pitch-perfect: the father's unresolved anger over his daughter's blindness, his guilty escape into an affair, the daughter's ability to see it all, and the father's inability to see so many things.
"If I Loved You," a story told in the tricky second person, holds death at a distance, barely. I'm still thinking about this story, how it works, and why. In fact, the stories and characters of If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This are still walking around in my head, more than two weeks after reading the collection. Clara, the central character in "Immortalizing John Parker," is a portrait artist who seems to live an austere and orderly existence. Her unexpected secret, and the revelation of her secret to her former husband, are still resonating in this reader's mind.
In a short story collection there is often a kind of sameness to the stories. I didn't find that with If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This. Each story seemed to deliver its own peculiar pleasurable jolt: of surprise, of recognition, of rueful agreement. Not only that, there is a pleasing variety to the characters and their worlds. In "Harriet Elliot" a strangely adult fifth grader arrives at an experimental school and spins a fantastic tale of her own kidnapping. In "A Country Where You Once Lived" a father visits his estranged adult daughter and reaches a thoroughly unexpected understanding with his former wife. The final story, "The History of the World" just keeps going deeper and deeper: until the writer delves down into the most secret, the most unsettling, the truest places in her characters.
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This brought me back to the story; this book reminded me of the beauty of this form. Reading Robin Black's collection was like watching the most slender, amazing, accomplished aerialist fly through the air time and time again--wondrous. I highly recommend If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This for anyone who needs stories (that's all of us, folks).