Anguished people hit the road in this dazzling pair of novellas.
The search for freedom from imprisoning realities animates both of these stories. In Anwar,” Gill Taylor–a successful Washington, D.C., accountant with a past as a neighborhood activist–is poised to run for Congress. His idealism runs smack into the realities of retail politics, consisting of insidious pressures to sell out his friends and his principles. Gill recoils at the betrayals demanded of him, but his ambitious, cunning wife Laura revels in such games. She thinks a little moral compromise is a small price to pay for power. Fleeing his world of backslapping treachery, Gill lights out on a whim for that symbol of embattled purity, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There, he faces more clear-cut perils–cold, fog, bears–in the struggle for survival. Robinson subtly renders the small, incessant corruptions of Beltway society, which, for all its civility, is as ruthless as the harsh Alaska frontier. In The Trace,” 47-year-old Houston web designer Charles Winston finds his life physically constrained by a creeping paralysis, and prevails on his devastated mother Ermine to take him out for a trip along the scenic Natchez Trail parkway to her Tennessee hometown. The story is on one level a tragedy of failed adulthood–as Charles’s condition worsens, he regresses to a second infancy in which Ermine must bathe and diaper him. But the mood is one of reflection and familial love. Mother and son work through the many disappointments and hardships that blighted their past, and Charles loses himself in reveries about the simple pleasures of nature and movement. The result is a moving drama that manages to wring solace from heartache. In both these sagas, Robinson writes with a wonderful feel for character and setting. His supple prose mixes nuanced psychological realism with hauntingly evoked landscapes that lend his tales a mythic resonance.
A fine work of debut fiction by a talented writer.