Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Robison is most often considered a minimalist. The minimalist style produces deceptively simple and realistic fiction that, at its best, offers a concentrated and uncluttered narrative. Minimalism reflects the major characteristics of the short story, the genre in which it is most often employed. Both minimalism and the short story rely heavily on figures of speech and the baggage of connotation that comes with each, especially metonymy, in which one thing symbolizes another with which it is associated. Here, the title of this story is the key to the symbolic connection between the narrator’s hobby and her need for direction and answers to puzzling questions about the future.
Some readers may find this story more cluttered than most minimalist fiction, but the clutter of the story represents the clutter that fills these characters’ lives, and the trivia with which many people fill their lives so that they can believe they live full lives. The irony is that their lives are empty shells of existence filled with empty echoes of life. Here the mother and grandfather especially are going through the motions of life but at most are only existing.
In addition to the internal connection between the narrator’s hobby and her role as a high-school graduate, the story reflects the universal situation of graduates poised on the brink of their futures. It also mirrors the duality of choice, the duality of cause, the duality of change, and the duality...
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An Amateur's Guide to the Night (Magill's Literary Annual 1984)
During the past few years, Mary Robison has won increasing recognition as one of the finest of a new generation of American writers. An Amateur’s Guide to the Night is her second collection of short stories. In addition to her first collection, Days (1979), she has published a novel, Oh! (1981). Six of the thirteen stories in An Amateur’s Guide to the Night originally appeared in The New Yorker. It is not surprising that such a high percentage of Robison’s stories should appear in one of America’s most prestigious markets for short fiction, for Robison’s fiction is at once accessible and highly distinctive. With her precise control of language and her rigorous selection of detail and event, she places the reader in the center of her characters’ emotional lives. Robison found her unique voice at a relatively young age, and in this second collection of stories, that voice continues to develop. She has the ability to write such completely rendered stories—within the confines of her narrative approach—that the widespread assumption about necessary apprenticeship years does not seem applicable to her. Raymond Carver has noted that Robison is one of a handful of contemporary short-story writers who are capable of rendering the world according to their own vision. That vision is tempered by a sense of humor, and although some critics have complained about the bleakness in many of her characters’ lives, almost...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Christian Science Monitor. January 11, 1984, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. December 9, 1983, p. 38.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII, November 27, 1983, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXIV, September 30, 1983, p. 106.
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