Review

A Perfect Stranger: And Other Stories

by Roxana Robinson



"It was the realization that what he'd thought he'd known about
her was not the truth. She'd had a secret life, running right next
to his, fast, black, lethal.
"

Roxana Robinson's latest collection of short stories is not for the
faint of heart. With powerful, gripping meditations on such weighty
subjects as premature death, extramarital affairs, and unrelenting
depression, this is not a book that can be read straight through in
one sitting. Instead, each of the thirteen offerings should be read
slowly so that its meaning can marinate, breathe on its own, and
then pass purposefully through the core of its reader --- every
carefully chosen word quietly taking shape at its own pace and each
reflective moment tragically beautiful and bittersweet in its own
way.

Unlike many anthologies that often contain stories of assorted
merit, Robinson's most recent collection is solid from start to
finish. Her characters are introspective, imperfect, and
endearingly human -- each imbued with a personality-specific
combination of selfishness and gracious frailty, and each at the
mercy of life's haphazard unfolding. Similarly, her interconnected
musings on love, betrayal, loss, and fear are so shocking in their
blunt sincerity and so blazing in their dead-on depiction of
true-to-life events, that even the most jaded of readers are sure
to feel a tightening of the chest at certain moments within each
story.

Robinson's true talent, of course, lies in her ability to capture
the eternal and the inexplicable in one tightly woven punch of a
sentence. In simple and straightforward language, she holds nothing
back in describing the true grit of what is and what might be, and
as a result, she not only grabs our attention at the onset of each
story but maintains it through to the end as well, in a gentle yet
vice-like grip that attacks our consciousness and gnaws away at our
thoughts long after the last page is turned. What we are left with
is a book that must be read again and again, written by a writer
worthy of tremendous praise and hopefully another book contract in
the near future.

Although all of the stories in this collection are worthwhile
reads, there are a few that stand out above the rest.
"Intersection" is a multilayered meditation on depression and the
different methods people often take to temper its effects. "The
Treatment" is a harrowing depiction of a woman who suddenly is
confronted with her own mortality after being diagnosed with a
grave illness. The short yet commanding story is a macabre
rumination on what it feels like to suffer alone with only your
hopes, fears, and other people's judgments to keep you company. In
"Assez," a husband's betrayal (an extramarital affair) is at the
crux of a story about a couple and their attempt to save their
marriage by spending the summer in France with two old friends.
Much like the calm before a storm, the two manage to delicately
find their way back to each other before their return to reality
and, inevitably, to a life apart.

Robinson, who is also the author of three novels, two previous
short story collections and a biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, is
supremely adept at unpacking the intricacies of her characters'
relationships and their reactions to sudden shifts of balance or
unfortunate twists of fate. Much like Raymond Carver or Alice
Munro, she has encapsulated the essence of each story in a series
of brilliant and illuminating moments and, in turn, has deftly
captured the bitter beauty of life in all its perfect
strangeness.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 17, 2011

A Perfect Stranger: And Other Stories
by Roxana Robinson

  • Publication Date: April 26, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 0375509186
  • ISBN-13: 9780375509186