13 June 2014

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, by Robin Black

I was alerted to the existence of this book by this wonderful piece in Elle, where female authors discuss their favorite books by women.  At the time I hadn't read anything by Karen Russell, but I was interested in checking her out, and anyhow, I basically added most of the books mentioned here to my to-read list. I was particularly intrigued by the ones I hadn't heard of before, and this one happened to be easy to get my hands on.

These are interesting stories that take you to places that literature rarely does -- there's a particular interest in observing life with physical handicaps, or in the aftermath of tragedy, for instance. The stories are engrossing and make insightful connections between various aspects of human experience, and the book is overall a quick and largely pleasant read.

My gripe is that after awhile, you start to notice that they're mostly structured in the same way: the story starts off in one time and place. Then there's a sudden jump to a different one; either an earlier moment in the narrator's life, or a story of someone else altogether, and that becomes the main focus, until we reach some kind of awareness that allows us to return to the initial storyline and revisit some kind of culminating or primal scene. Sometimes there are three narrative strands involved instead of two, and the way the pieces fit together isn't identical every time, but the similarity is enough that after awhile, you start to feel a bit manipulated.

Amusingly, when I did read something by Karen Russell, namely her Vampires in the Lemon Grove, my objection to it was not totally dissimilar to my problem with this collection. As I was reading it, I found myself thinking, over and over, "This is just a story that someone made up." That feeling is tracking some kind of quality of these stories, I'm sure -- their arbitrariness? Their lack of realism? -- but I still think that's the best way to capture it.


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Foreverman said...

I like your commentary. Would love to have you join us at185 www.forevermansbookclub.blogspot.com

culture_vulture said...

Hi Foreverman -- I would be happy to! I read Prodigal Summer years ago, but I'll check in and see what you're reading next month perhaps?