Robin Black’s short stories take a look at the poignant human experiences we all share
The ubiquitous greeting adopted by most Americans is, “Hi. How are you?” To which the expected response is “Fine, and you?” This exchange is made perhaps billions of times a day between everyone from bank tellers to co-workers to the man that comes to install the new dishwasher at your home. But does anyone really care? If a deviation to the usual response of, “Fine, how are you?” is indeed made, the robotic trance of the standard impersonal greeting is broken, revealing an uncertainty of what to say next. To say, “I’m terrible actually,” elicits a panicked state in the mind of the other party, who becomes unsure of whether to ask why, or simply say, “I’m sorry.” The thing is, it seems that few people want to hear how someone is really doing, and vice versa—few really admit that they are feeling anything besides, “Fine, thank you.”
“If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories” is author Robin Black’s new collection of short stories that delve into the reality of life. Ask any of the characters in Black’s book how they are and their responses of “Fine, thank you” would be utter lies. The 10 affecting yet intense stories in the book are filled with disappointments endured, tragedies overcome but not forgotten—idealistic they are not.
Black will be speaking about her book, “If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories,” at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 12 at the Capitola Book Café. Her book peels back the myriad layers of the psyche, revealing the wounded and frightened souls of the people underneath. Swirling with lyrical words to create a bittersweet expression of life’s ups and downs, springs and falls, summers and winters, “If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories” deals openly with death, disability, infidelity, divorce, secrets kept and the painful realization of old age. But despite broaching such seemingly depressing topics, “If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories” is resolutely determined to display the panorama of the human condition however raw and messy it may be.
The broad range of stories deal with subjects such as a father coping with his daughter’s accidental blindness; a child being mocked in school for her differences; the sudden death of a husband, father or sibling—be it from accident or disease; the admission and terrible realization of trust broken; the pain mental illness inflicts on a family; the regret of a life lived to less than the fullest. But I found the most poignant story of all to be the one for which the book is titled. A woman dying of cancer and her loving husband struggle with their next door neighbor over a seemingly innocuous fence being built between their two homes. Little does the neighbor know that in the eyes of the dying woman next door, he is not building a mere fence, but a barrier to her comfortably living the remaining days of her life.
Piquant sentences peppered onto every page pull and prod at heartstrings. Sentences like “Grief must take her for its plaything,” “the ravages of time rendered irrelevant by love,” “the very thing that had broken her heart, now no longer wanted,” “as though there’s a moment in anyone’s life that is the truest one,” “booze is a necessary tiny kindness from time to time,” and “utter disappearance after death … the idea that as loved as we may be, we may also be forgotten.” Black has composed and effortlessly strung together countless sentences such as these and has made them dance on the page, ringing undeniably true to many an ear.
If one has a tendency toward bouts of melancholy, Black’s book may not be ideal downtime reading. But if your soul yearns for the passion of reality, the biting rawness of life and the recognition of the inevitable, the 10 stories assembled in this collection may leave you lachrymose, but with a strange craving for more. Although “If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories” is Black’s debut book, her evocative tales are no strangers to print. They have been published in literary journals that include Colorado Review, The Georgia Review, Bellevue Literary Review and The Southern Review.
Black’s stories will infuse you with compassion. So maybe the next time you say, “How are you?” to someone, you won’t do it with feigned politesse. You’ll do it with the realization that perhaps this person’s dog just died or they are going through a heartbreaking divorce. At least give them the courtesy of a kind smile, eye contact and the compassion of a listening ear to whatever their response may be.
Robin Black will be speaking about her book “If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories” at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 12 at the Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola. For more information, call 462-4415 or visit robinblack.net. Photo Credit: ©Marion Ettlinger