Tuesday, July 13, 2010

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, Robin Black

Robin Black's debut collection of short stories has drawn comparisons to Alice Munro and Mary Gaitskill. These are two very different sized shoes to try and slip on. And, Black's writing does not come close. Munro writes real fiction. Munro's stories are so perfect and 'neat,' it is impossible to come close to her talent. And, Gaitskill, well... she's in a short story world all her own. A dark, crass, and not always very good short story world. (Mary Gaitskill is far superior as a long fiction writer, ie Veronica).

These comparisons are not the fault of Black. These comparisons are faults of reviewers. Reviewers who know what names to drop to bring attention to a writer. So, I will join this category of reviewer and throw a comparison to Ali Smith. Ali Smith is a beautiful writer. Detailed, talented, and unique. Her fiction (Hotel World and The Accidental) are two of the most interesting pieces of long form fiction published out of Britain in the last ten years. But, Smith's short stories are always a tad bit weak. Filled with beautiful moments of description. Almost poetic sentences from time to time. The narrators are a tad bit kooky. And, the stories range in tone, but are usually female point of view.

Black's debut collection is so much like reading an Ali Smith short story. Entertaining enough. But, not really anything new. There are no surprises within these stories. They are sad. They are stories of loss. Of death. Of distance. But, the voices don't really seem to vary. These stories all appear to be told by the same narrator. There is something sarcastic about many of the female voices. In fact, I would go so far as to say these stories and their voices resemble that of Diablo Cody's writing (Jennifer's Body, Juno, The United States of Tara).

The best story in the collection is the title story, "If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This." The story is written as a stream of consciousness letter to a neighbor putting a fence up between two homes. The sarcasm and humor of this narrator is used in such a perfect way. A form of defense. And, while many of the voices appear to be sarcastic as a means for survival... The sarcasm works best in this story.


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