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TELL ME: 30 Stories

Mary Robison, Author
Mary Robison, Author . Counterpoint $16 (288p) ISBN 978-1-58243-258-8
Reviewed on: 10/28/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
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Thirty brief, sharply delineated short stories written over three decades by Robison (Days) chronicle emotional dislocation with witty dispassion. Robison's characters, usually members of middle-class families, are often pictured grappling with the redefinition of roles, such as the teenaged star-gazing narrator of "An Amateur's Guide to the Night" and her pill-popping single mother who pass for sisters and go on double-dates together. Or the newly idle Helen of "Independence Day," recently returned to her father's grand lakeside house in Ohio, who halfheartedly resists the pressure of her estranged husband, Terry, to get on with her life. Epiphanies are of less interest to Robison than rendering the shimmering immediacy of situation: "I could be getting married soon. The fellow is no Adonis," establishes straightaway the art teacher of "In Jewel," whose engagement means a way out of the dead-end eponymous miner town she's always lived in. Robison locates her fairly comfortable characters anywhere from Beverly Hills ("Smoke") to Ophelia, Ohio ("While Home"), to Washington, D.C ("Smart"); they are waiting for rides in the rain or for babies to be born or for life, simply, to go on. And in every story her characters make valiant, hit-or-miss attempts to connect with one another. The brevity of these tales sometimes leaves the reader hanging, especially since their author delights in oblique details and non sequiturs. Yet nothing is superfluous, and in the spare sadness of Robison's prose entire lives are presented. As the fiancée of "In Jewel" concludes, "All that I've ever owned or had is right out here for you to examine." (Nov.)

Forecast:Readers who've enjoyed Robison's stories in the New Yorker will find this a handy compendium. And those fans of realist short fiction who have yet to sample Robison may be profitably steered toward this collection.

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