cover image Asking for Love

Asking for Love

Roxana Robinson. Random House (NY), $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43902-8

Set in Manhattan townhouses, ancestral country homes and island getaways, the 15 stories in Robinson's second collection (after A Glimpse of Scarlet) serve as clear windows into the posh world of East Coast WASPs. What's revealed within their elegantly constructed frames isn't picture-perfect, however, as the author subtly plumbs modern--often fragmented--family dynamics, and the trials of the unhappily wed, the broken-up and the back-together, as well as the travails of the children who must adapt to them. In ""Mr. Sumarsono"" (which was included in Best American Short Stories, 1994), Robinson delineates how a 10-year-old girl who believes her single mother to be an embarrassment comes to realize that their houseguest, an Indonesian diplomat, instead views her as a ""glowing, self-assured, generous woman."" With irony and suspense, ""Slipping Away"" recounts how a woman conducting a cautious affair is tormented by her husband's spying. Finally, she is worn down from her customarily placid and organized existence into what she considers to be the ""landscape of drama and passion"" of her Spanish-speaking maid. In ""Leaving Home,"" 13-year-old Alison Thatcher believes herself a ""fraud,"" interpreting the raging emotions of adolescence as proof of her lack of the famous Thatcher quality of integrity. Her subsequent act of rebellion cements her feelings by deliberately breaking from integrity--and from her family. Robinson reveals her characters through a striking combination of nuance, empathy and wit. (Mar.)