A collection of short stories with rural settings.
In Robinson’s interesting debut, 16 short stories set throughout the South (with detours to Montana, Idaho and California) feature protagonists plucked from Flannery O’Connor central casting. In “Epiphany” (one of the collection’s strongest and funniest), a shady revival-meeting faith healer attempts to cure a man afflicted by explosive “trouble” with his “function.” When his affliction asserts itself in front of the audience only seconds after the laying on of hands, the preacher abruptly loses his congregation. In “Conundrum,” flat characters yield reductive results: Fat-cat employers force a hardworking truck driver to make a nonstop, round-trip run that will guarantee he’ll miss his son’s birthday party, and when his truck has an accident, his employers fire him while swilling martinis at their country club. Fortunately, such missteps happen rarely here. Stories often give quick, almost Cheever-esque vignettes of conflict and loss, from the bittersweet social satire of “Gone Fishin’ ” to the disturbing gothic undertones of “Sanctuary.” Robinson’s style is supple and often eloquent, and he has a natural-born dramatist’s ear for the way people talk. The stories range from five to 25 pages and are well-paced, usually ending with some kind of narrative bang. Subtle tone changes enrich the collection; for example, the gritty tension of a story like “The Laws of Thermodynamics” shifts naturally to the stately, elegiac voice of the collection’s final story, “Thawing Ice,” and in almost every story, the rhythms and extremes of the natural world feature prominently. Robinson is a keen observer of human nature too; some of these stories pack real emotional punch.
An enjoyable collection from a new voice.