Each story from American writer Robin Black in this collection is a mini work of art. She is telling one story about a married daughter sneaking a lover into her parent’s house, but the real narrative simmers underneath.
Many of the characters deal with difference. A woman hides her stroke from her husband; a man, mildly damaged at birth, ‘loses’ certain words. This is deftly dealt with, the disability informing the plot, rather than defining it.
A father and his blind teenage daughter travel to collect a guide dog, but the real story is the effect on the family of the accident years before, coupled with the daughter’s extraordinary insight. A heartless man causes a border dispute, erecting a fence just feet from his neighbour’s front door, but the point is how his casual thoughtlessness affects the couple struggling with illness and stress.
A father is reunited with the daughter he has not seen for many years. We expect a story of forgiveness, but it’s more about the father’s sense of alienation. Immortalising John Parker shows an artist in grief for a dead lover — but transforms into an exploration into detachment and loss of self. Suffering early dementia, John Parker is in the process of becoming lost.
Divorced Beheaded Survived starts innocently enough with a childhood game. Then it flashes forward years to when the protagonists’ son loses a friend in a car crash. This tragedy brings back the death of her brother in childhood. What she remembers most from that time is how the tragedy set her apart.
The author shows amazing perception of human frailty. In two stories, Pine, and The History of the World, she shows how the unhappy, the bereaved and divorced, can drive others away with self-obsession. The stories stay with you. They teach life lessons and change the way you view the world.