KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Books

Review: Robin Black’s If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

by Estelle Tang , June 16, 20101 Comment

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
Robin Black
Publisher: Scribe Publications (Australia and New Zealand)
ISBN: 9781921640421
RRP: $32.95

The title of Robin Black’s debut short story collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, is an intriguing premise. What would she tell us, and why doesn’t she love us? We’re a little bruised from being excluded, but still curious. We come to know that the title perfectly reflects the earnest and considered tone of Black’s work. This bright-eyed honesty underpinned by a glassy covertness makes for a title that’s a fitting introduction to the stories within.

Black’s protagonists, impressively diverse, are poised on the edge of change and transition. In ‘Immortalizing John Parker’, seventy-year-old Clara Feinberg paints portraits for a living. She is mourning the loss of her lover, and is struggling to continue her work when she is commissioned to paint the portrait of John Parker by his wife, Katherine. She initially attributes John’s ‘dullness’ to personality; however, the reality is far more haunting. The pace is more akin to that of a novel than a short story; perfectly measured and illuminated by Black’s restrained style.

It’s this restrained style of Black’s that works most effectively in her younger protagonists. In ‘Harriet Elliot’, the characters are so keenly honest it actually pangs. ‘We all nodded. We all believed the same things,’ says the protagonist. This is just one of many of Black’s stories that stick for days. ‘Harriet Elliot’ is the story of a schoolgirl confronted by her own temporality with the arrival of the ‘new girl’, the eponymous Harriet Elliot. At home, the protagonist’s sister blames her for their parents’ disintegrating relationship. ‘At night, as I lay in the shoulder of the hallway light, she would walk over and pull my door shut tight, leaving me to lie there in the dark.’ This kind of subtle cruelty and the taut, authorial voice compares to that in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye.

The sequence of the stories could have been given more consideration. The seriously good ending to ‘Harriet Elliot’ is somewhat let down as it is annoyingly reminiscent of the conclusion of the preceding story, ‘Immortalizing John Parker’. Both endings finish with the word ‘gone’ and have a similar premise. Because they’re sequential, ‘Immortalizing John Parker’ unnecessarily comes off the slighter of the two, and the brilliance that could have belonged to the conclusion of ‘Harriet Elliot’ is slightly dulled.

Each of Black’s stories is brimming with different narratives, and it is often the peripheral characters that are most engaging. Cathleen, the ex-wife of the protagonist Jeremy in ‘A Country Where You Once Lived’ offers glinting one-liners that give an emotionally demanding narrative a necessary relief.

Black’s work is perhaps not best read after a bad day; she doesn’t shy away from her characters’ flaws and only illuminates how mean we can all be – at times, at least. In the closing story, ‘The History of the World’, the brother of Kate Rodgers, who has been left by her husband for another woman, thinks to himself that his sister sounds like ‘the kind of wife that gets herself left’, as she berates him for driving too fast. It’s a heartless thought, but it’s this honesty that makes Black’s work so faithful to human impatience.

It’s the closing image of each story that lingers after finishing them. A broken, yellow beach chair marooned on an empty soccer field in ‘Pine’ offers a haunting representation of the lonely protagonist. And in the ‘The History of the World’, Kate finds herself alone in a small Italian village, having travelled to Italy to get over said ruined marriage. There’s a flower festival on, the small town’s buildings and streets covered in flower petals depicting significant scenes from world history. In a passing breeze, ‘the colours before her seem to exhale, in a sigh’, and Kate is aware that within hours, it will all be swept away. Black might be suggesting hope for her characters, but it’s a tentative optimism. They too just want to be loved.

Belle Place is an editorial assistant at Affirm Press and writes for various monthly digital publications from Melbourne and Sydney.




  • http://www.removepopcornceiling.net/ how to remove popcorn ceiling

    Tremendous issues here. I’m very satisfied to peer your article. Thanks a lot and I am having a look ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

AffirmPress_Fallen_CVR

Rochelle Siemienowicz

A Bride Stripped Bare: A writer gets naked on the path from novel to memoir

You can find my book in the nonfiction section of the bookstore. I can’t deny it. It’s even me on the cover. And it is me, talking on radio and writing in women’s magazines about open marriages, non-monogamy, and how religion can fuck up your sexuality. People are calling me ‘brave’, but I’m not sure it’s a compliment. I feel so naked. How did this happen? Read more »

9781921924835

Gerard Elson

Dissolving Into Humanity: An interview with A.S. Patrić

A.S. Patrić’s fifth book, Black Rock White City, is not your typical immigrant novel. Its married protagonists, Jovan and Suzana Brakočević, are academics from the former Yugoslavia. She is a would-be novelist, he a former poet – the couple were displaced to Melbourne at the end of the last millennium by the ravaging Bosnian war. Read more »

9781922079381

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their picks from April

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

gbbo

Rebecca Shaw

Crumbling the Great Wall of Heteronormative Assumption

You are just there to see a doctor, or have a haircut, when all of a sudden you are reminded that you are different. You are forced to come out to strangers over and over again. You are required to either refute their assumptions and risk having an awkward or unpleasant discussion with a stranger about your personal life, or you are forced to lie. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

every-day-2012-005_cmyk

Anwen Crawford

Being Boring: Passing time with the films of Michael Winterbottom

What does it mean to film the same performers over the course of years, to have them age in front of the camera? Everyday pays careful attention to boredom, and at moments it manages to capture a sense of time that is both elusive and profound. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »

ForceM6609

Jane Howard

Witness and Connection at Melbourne’s Dance Massive

In a city where it feels not a day goes by without an arts festival, or three, happening, Melbourne’s Dance Massive is resolutely unique. Australia’s largest dance festival is by necessity heavily reliant on Melbourne-based companies and shows that will go on to tour independently of the festival. The festival is undeniably of, and for, the dance sector in Melbourne. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »