Short stories of upper-class domestic life by an award-winning literary talent: “Asking for Love delighted me no end” (Alice Munro).
Whether it’s a woman who must accept the reality of her son growing up, or a daughter becoming disillusioned with her father, this moving collection expertly conveys the joys, doubts, fears, and endless contradictions that are inescapable parts of domestic life. In “Mr. Sumarsono,” included in The Best American Short Stories of 1994, a visiting Indonesian diplomat brings out the confidence and charm in a suburban divorcée, much to the surprise of her two young daughters; and in “Leaving Home” a teenage girl, stifled by her family’s rigid sense of virtue, attempts to reinvent herself during a summer vacation.
The everyday challenges of parenting, stepparenting, and familial love and loyalty take on great weight as the richly drawn characters of each story—fathers, mothers, children, lovers—face them with genuine need, strength, and confusion. Up and down the Eastern Seaboard, from Manhattan’s Upper East Side to Maine, Connecticut, and Long Island, these stories showcase the trademark insight and tenderness with which Robinson explores divorce, remarriage, and families yearning to move on.
Set in Manhattan townhouses, ancestral country homes and island getaways, the 15 stories in Robinson's second collection (after A Glimpse of Scarlet) serve as clear windows into the posh world of East Coast WASPs. What's revealed within their elegantly constructed frames isn't picture-perfect, however, as the author subtly plumbs modern--often fragmented--family dynamics, and the trials of the unhappily wed, the broken-up and the back-together, as well as the travails of the children who must adapt to them. In "Mr. Sumarsono" (which was included in Best American Short Stories, 1994), Robinson delineates how a 10-year-old girl who believes her single mother to be an embarrassment comes to realize that their houseguest, an Indonesian diplomat, instead views her as a "glowing, self-assured, generous woman." With irony and suspense, "Slipping Away" recounts how a woman conducting a cautious affair is tormented by her husband's spying. Finally, she is worn down from her customarily placid and organized existence into what she considers to be the "landscape of drama and passion" of her Spanish-speaking maid. In "Leaving Home," 13-year-old Alison Thatcher believes herself a "fraud," interpreting the raging emotions of adolescence as proof of her lack of the famous Thatcher quality of integrity. Her subsequent act of rebellion cements her feelings by deliberately breaking from integrity--and from her family. Robinson reveals her characters through a striking combination of nuance, empathy and wit.