Thirteen splendid stories in an elegant third collection from Robinson (Sweetwater, 2003, etc.) range widely to give us a peek into the obsessions and troubles of the well-versed and well-off.
The title story inserts a British opera expert into the suburban guestroom of a volunteer for a local music festival. The hostess is so eager to please the festival head that she doesn’t bother to ask her husband if he would mind a “perfect stranger” as a houseguest for the weekend. By the end of this deft tale, Robinson has captured all three characters beautifully, along with the shifting nuances of marriage. “The Treatment” begins bluntly (“Here is what I do each morning”) and proceeds to describe in suspenseful detail the horrors and hopes of a woman who takes a “chilled golden globe” from the refrigerator each morning, warming up a powerful antibiotic she must feed into a plastic tube inserted into her bloodstream, in hopes it will cure her of a long-term disease. The narrator of “The Football Game” compares her own artist father and progressive mother unfavorably to her boarding school roommate’s family (“Their family seemed to unwind, like a spool, into a perfectly woven fabric . . . ”). By the end of the Yale-Bowdoin game, where the two girls keep her parents waiting while they dally with two Yalies, she has learned that the world outside her family was much larger than she had imagined, and more complicated—“more dangerous and beautiful.” “The Face Lift” follows the years-long trajectory of a friendship between former classmates, one a Pennsylvania country girl, the other a wealthy, seemingly carefree Salvadoran. The narrator, divorced and childless, seems to envy Cristina’s wealth, her marriage, her children, until she learns of a violent incident in San Salvador that almost cost Cristina her life.
Stories that tick away with the precision of perfectly wrought timepieces.