Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: If I loved you, I would tell you this

If I loved you, I would tell you this
By Robin Black
288 pages
Random House March 2010
From the biblioteca

If I loved you, I would tell you this is the debut collection of short stories by Robin Black. She tells a wide range of stories – a father taking his teenage daughter to get her first seeing eye dog, an artist trying to render a man on canvas who is suffering from dementia, a group of children play acting the wives of King Henry, and a woman traveling through Italy with her brother after her painful divorce. Black portrays each protagonist well, regardless of age or gender. Her middle-aged father is as convincing as the young girl who believes that magic will keep her fracturing family together.

The strongest of the bunch is the title story. Black uses an inventive format to tell the story of a woman who is terminally ill. She begins each segment with “if I loved you, I would tell you this.” Her neighbor (who she refers to as ‘yeti’) is oblivious to the effect his actions have on her life.  She imagines how she would tell him about the way his selfish choices impacted her life, if she knew him well enough to begin the conversation. The heartbreak of this woman who will leave behind a grieving husband and a mentally ill son is beautifully rendered.

“Todd: cannot speak, cannot walk, barely hears, is blind in one eye. Cannot control his bladder or his bowels. Does he know us? It’s never been clear. Until now, I’d always hoped that he did. I’d always hoped that it gave him some kind of comfort to have me and have Sam there with him. But now I’m not so sure that I want that anymore. Now I find myself hoping sometimes he never really knew who I was. Now, my yeti, I find myself hoping he may be like you. And so won’t ever miss me when I’m gone.”

Ms. Black has a gift for the heart of the short story - finding the nuanced moments that reveal everything about a person or situation. She places each character on the page with compassion and care because each one of them is broken. Her stories are good and it’s difficult for me to find a specific flaw. That being said, the characters and stories didn’t stay in my mind after reading. Despite the heavy subject matter, the emotional punch to the gut that causes you to close a book of short stories and just take it all in was not to be found.

If I loved you, I would tell you this is a solid debut, full of stories of great love living in tension with incredible loss. I only wish there was the additional depth that leaves the reader completely satisfied with just one single perfect story. 

PS - Happy Valentine's Day, my fellow book lovers! 

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