If I Loved You I Would Tell You This
 by Robin Black

Random House
First Collection

Awards: Winner, Athenaeum of Philadelphia Literary Award; shortlisted, 2010 Cork-City Frank O'COnnor International Short Story Prize; longlisted, 2010 Story Prize

"It’s not a level playing field. My foes do not play fair. Death and all of its traveling companions and close associates, all of those beings who sneaked into my house, camouflaged in the chaos that surrounded Joe’s swift disease. Loss and grief. Reality itself. And always, with me, since, this horrible heightened awareness of impeding abandonment. "

Reviewed by Michelle Reale

Robin Black’s first collection of short stories is a tour de force. Eschewing glitz and over the top attention-getters that seem to be the hook for so many collections these days, Black writes in a uniquely quiet and brooding way about quotidian lives’ and the fires that often scorch and burn them. Those "fires" often start small. They may smolder, flare or roar full blown, but Black’s prose always reveals in an even tone, making the juxtaposition of the events she portrays all the more searing and poignant.

A daughter left behind in London, a soccer mom with a wooden leg, a woman who wants to immortalize her mentally declining husband in a portrait, and a visiting daughter, who carries on an inscrutable affair in the house of her elderly parents, create worlds in which every nuance is not only rings true because you can truly imagine it happening, but because Black word-paints her stories in such a way that you can see, in your gaping mind's eye, every gesture, all told in Black’s inimitable, subtle way.

In the title story, the narrator, a married woman, addresses her inconsiderate neighbor about the both real and imagined situations that she hopes will exemplify his inconsiderate decision to erect a wooden fence along his recently surveyed property line. "If I loved you, I would tell you this," as a first line is a brilliant and heartbreaking setup to a gripping story of how, no matter how life seemingly drains away amidst the grim realities of brain damage and cancer, the day to day irritations provide an odd respite for the characters here.

In Harriet Elliot the new girl in school, set apart by her manner of dress and the unlikely story of her kidnapping in Italy as a baby, is hell bent on revenge, fuelled by her own real or imaginary memory of a harrowing ordeal separating her from her parents.

Pine is a poignant look at where we find happiness as two women make each other’s acquaintance at their daughters' soccer game. One woman cannot break free from the grief that has a stronghold on her since her husband’s death three years before, and wonders at the tranquility of the other woman who lost her leg to cancer at 16.

In Table Vivant a daughter’s visit is the catalyst for a woman’s reflection of her life as her older husband’s caretaker. It becomes painfully obvious to the woman what the real reason for her daughter’s visit is while at the same time she wonders at the choices we all make and are forced to live with throughout our lives.

The things that push us together are often the same things that tear us apart. These are some of the predominant themes that populate this incredibly gripping first collection. These stories are rendered in near flawless prose, and are, by turns, sad and dark, but in the author’s deft hands, there are glimmers of bright light she lets in, too.

Read a story from this collection in Hunger Mountain

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her fiction has been published in Smokelong Quaterly, The Los Angeles Review, Eyeshot, elimae, Pank and others. Her work was included in Dzanc’s Best of the Web 2010. Her chapbook Natural Habitat was published by Burning River in 2010.

Michelle's other Short Reviews: Sana Krasikov "One More Year"

Jody Lisberger "Remember Love"

Anne Donovan "Hieroglyphics"

Joan Aiken "The Serial Garden"

Shellie Zacharia "Now Playing"

Eva Tihanyi "Truth and Other Fictions"

Stefanie Freele "Feeding Strays"

Kathryn Ma "All That Work And Still No Boys"

Tara Masih "Where the Dog Star Never Glows
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Robin Black is an award winning writer and a graduate of the MFA program at Warren Wilson College. Her fiction and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Alaska Quartely Review, The Georgia Review, One Story and others. She has received fellowships from the Leeway Foundation and the MacDowell Colony. She lives with her family in Philadelphia.

Read an interview with Robin Black