In this short story collection, Robey (Where’s the Party, 2011, etc.) explores casual and emotional connections in picturesque parts of America.
These 10 tales all stand on their own, but they’re thematically linked by a strong emphasis on personal interaction. These range from strangers bonding on a bird-watching trip (“Fallout”) to an aging couple contemplating retirement (“On the Shore”). Many stories merge the complexities of relationships with the natural beauty in which they are set. For instance, in “Spring Thaw,” the author uses a thawing river (“Clear water was gushing out, pushing winter away”) to represent how a strained mother-daughter relationship begins to heal. In “Great Northern Pike,” Robey uses the image of a fish’s movements (“Dark green mixed with flashing white, twisting, bending, magnified to huge proportions by the water”) to mirror the excitement that the protagonist has in fishing with his expert father. Only one story is more than 10 pages long, and Robey cleverly and succinctly compacts her writing in a minimalist style that’s reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s. In the title story, Robey describes snow falling as the main character admires a scarlet coat for sale. On the street, students, protesting the Vietnam War, clash with armed guards. The author’s description of “the most beautiful tinsel snow” offers a vivid contrast to violence. Another story, “Riding the Gold Line,” about a man observing a woman confronting her cheating husband, is an outlier in that it eschews the others’ rich descriptions of nature. Debut illustrator Balardo’s clean sketches of characters and nature, however, add to the charm of each story.
Despite some thematic discord, this is a well-considered, literary collection that reveals connections of all sorts.