Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories
Robin Black
Random House
hardcover, $24.00, published 2010
274 pages
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).


Short Story Slore said...

I'm so glad you loved this book! The title pulled me in the second I saw it and I can't wait to read it, especially now that you've pointed out each story is different from the others. I love discovering a new author and fabulous debut collection. Great review!

Rummanah Aasi said...

I keep seeing this title on my public library's display shelf and keep debating whether or not to pick it up. After reading your review, I think I will. It sounds just what I need right now. Thanks!

Melody said...

Putting this on my wishlist, thanks for the review!

Kerry said...

I love this just for the title. Sounds lovely!

bibliophiliac said...

@Short Story Slore-I hope you'll like it!
@Rummanah Aasi-great, you should definitely read this one.
@Melody-thanks for stopping by.
@Kerry-it is a wonderful title.

robin black said...

Thank you so much for this generous review. It's an amazing feeling as a writer to be read so well!


bibliophiliac said...

@Robin Black-*blushes* thanks for taking the time to read my review-I look forward to reading more of your stories!

B said...

Great review! This sounds like a must-read.