Fifteen stories, mostly wonderful, that once again demonstrate Robinson's (A Glimpse of Scarlet, 1991, etc.) skillful—and fearless—handling of WASP nests. The well-off characters in these pieces have built safe lives based on certain conventions of manner and conversation. What Robinson makes us see again and again is how fragile that structure really is, how one chance remark or impulsive act can turn everything upside down in a single, terrifying, thrilling moment. This experience holds equally true for adults in stories like ``The Favor'' and ``Slipping Away,'' and, in ``Leaving Home,'' for children like Alison, who comes face to face with freedom, guilt, and her own desperate adolescent soul simply by climbing into a silver canoe. Divorce, especially the bewildering labyrinth where divorced parents try to find the correct path, plays a part in many of these stories. In fact, certain similarities in ``Asking for Love,'' ``The Family Restaurant,'' and ``The Nightmare'' make them seem like only slight variations on a single theme—a hazard in a collection where many pieces like these (perhaps even more notably the title story with its heartstopping midair finale) would stand up well separately. In ``Mr. Sumarsono'' (also in The Best American Short Stories of 1994), a visiting Indonesian diplomat presents an angry ten-year-old girl with a new view of her mother. And it's another foreigner, a French babysitter, who forces a mother (in ``The Reign of Arlette'') to recognize that her son is growing up. Robinson captures the world of Maine summer houses, Scottish shooting trips, and velvet-collared Chesterfield coats with acuity and marvelously sharp, ironic prose. When she ventures outside this world, as in ``White Boys in Their Teens,'' she is somewhat less surefooted. But, overall, here is a writer who thoroughly knows her bearings. Large truths served up with small tea sandwiches—delicious stories.
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