Books by Robin Hemley

Released: March 1, 2020

"Engaging bits about intriguing lands, all in service of trying to 'understand the complexities of the world.'"
An American expatriate now living in Singapore explores the world between and beyond borders, where the notion of nationalism becomes complicated. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 20, 2009

"Far from generating epiphanies, these 'renovations' merely reinforce how nice it is to be an adult."
A 48-year-old writer chronicles his goofball quest to correct the perceived failures of his youth. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: May 1, 2003

"A sobering look at the power of the media to transform the perception of a people, and a reminder that the truth is seldom simple. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)"
A revisionist look at the Tasaday people, "discovered" during the 1970s in a remote region of the Philippines and declared Stone Age survivors, but later dismissed as a hoax. Read full book review >
NOLA by Robin Hemley
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

This profile of the author's sister succumbs to self-absorption, revealing the painful difficulties of trying to capture the life of a family member. Nola, the author's older half-sister, has been dead for 25 years, yet he remains enthralled by her imaginative stories and psychotic episodes. So too does their mother, a bohemian writer whose own story dominates much of this account. Hemley (Creative Writing/Western Washington Univ.) complains that their mother is choosy about revealing even the basic facts of her unconventional life, yet he also self-importantly claims that —the facts are boring . . . bourgeois, not my currency.— In trying to piece together his sister's life, Hemley delves into his own netherworld of memories, which often seem irrelevant to his sister's world. As he idolized his sister, he sought to be more like her, adopting a bit of her penchant for Eastern religions and even winding up, briefly, a child ward in the same mental institution where she was an adult resident. The content of this family's story is not as striking as the author's artistic choices in telling it; the most sobering question implied by the book is the one Hemley raises at the beginning: —How can one be objective about one's family?— Objectivity is not apparent here, but Hemley does show how family stories become encoded with time, each narrative taking on its own reality and purpose. He analyzes certain events from several points of view, comparing his mother's published, fictionalized versions of family events with his sister's autobiographical sketch and his own childhood recollections. Ultimately, though, even these artistic comparisons become hackneyed in their self-conscious pretensions to discovering Truth. (b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
THE BIG EAR by Robin Hemley
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 1, 1995

In a second collection, Hemley picks up where he left off in All You Can Eat (1988): lots of disaffected folks, in stories that try too hard to be quirky. The title piece sets the tone for much that follows. Peter is an eavesdropper and a prankster, struggling to receive some attention from a mother who can't focus beyond her boyfriend du jour. While the story has its funny moments, it (like too many here) leaves you feeling that life is just too disconnected to mean much of anything. Ditto ``The Last Customer,'' where a man and woman haggle over their food order—as the world outside is literally ``crumbling to pieces'': at the close, a piece of land rips free and the two hagglers are propelled up into space. Stories like ``A Printer's Tale'' and ``The Perfect World'' offer some sharp digs over the state of contemporary poetry but have trouble moving beyond the single joke. In ``The Holocaust Party,'' however, Hemley deals with more weighty matters. Here, the disaffected character is firmly in place, wondering at all the strangeness around him, but he does get a glimpse into the complicated nature of people whose brittle surfaces mask deeper hurts. Human frailty is the subject of ``My Father's Bawdy Song,'' an appealing tale of a man trying to know his long-dead father, even as he fears he might have inherited his legacy of failure. Of the 16 pieces here, though, ``Sleeping Over'' is by far the best. In it, a young boy makes friends with a local misfit, then is pushed away for reasons he can't comprehend. The reader understands, though, and is chilled by the knowledge. A few of Hemley's stories linger, disturb, and enlighten, but they make the bulk of the collection that much more problematic- -and, by comparison, very thin. Read full book review >
THE LAST STUDEBAKER by Robin Hemley
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

Hemley follows his short story collection (All You Can Eat, 1988) with this first novel about a dysfunctional family. Lois and Willy Kulwicki are about to break up. Lois will move out of their South Bend, Indiana, home with their kids, Gail and Meg, so that Willy's new ``girl'' Alice can move in. Meanwhile, the parents will continue giving as much love to objects as to their daughters, Willy ``reconditioning'' the Studebaker wrecks in their yard, Lois acquiring useless collectibles at garage sales. Whether their separate interests are cause or symptom of their troubles is unclear, as is the cause of Lois's instability—has she ever recovered from the most shocking year of her childhood, 1963? That was when Studebaker's South Bend plant shut down; her father Rudy, a company man, couldn't cope with his dismissal, and her mother dumped him, just like that, outside a Stuckey's in West Virginia. At any rate, life gets worse when Lois and daughters move into their new (leased) home. Its owner, a sad sack called Henry Martin, suddenly shows up in the kitchen. Henry has been a basket case since his near-death in a car crash, and Lois's decision to shelter him fragments the family further as teenager Gail turns spiteful. Lois flips, blowing the grocery money on a phonograph at an estate sale and then, in shame and confusion, hitting the road for West Virginia, where she has a cheerless reunion with her father before being retrieved by Henry and the kids. Dippy Lois, weird Henry, and mean-spirited Gail make for depressing company; the domestic-crisis novel calls for a greater delicacy of calibration than Hemley's. Read full book review >