Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mary Robison is noted for her clean prose that neatly embodies a great deal in a few words, giving the reader insight into an entire life by looking closely at small moments of that life. One technique by which she compresses much into a small space is her suggestive use of images that take on allegorical importance. In “Pretty Ice,” the narrator is obsessed with calculations and numbers, with parting her hair down the middle to make sure that everything falls evenly into two equal halves. Even her study of music seems to have resulted not in a free-flowing approach to life, but in looking at high-tension towers and seeing in their cables memories of the staff lines on a sheet of music.

Most important, there is Robison’s play on the word “superficial.” Will’s research project has been rejected because it was seen to be superficial, criticism that Belle ultimately shares not only of the work but also, it seems, of Will himself. One might also say that Belle’s mother has a superficial way of relating to others, clear especially in her decision not to mention the research problem to Will and in demanding that her husband’s death not be discussed. She prefers to remember him as a beautiful dancer—someone who, in effect, skims gracefully across surfaces. Most pointedly, though, Belle unconsciously identifies with just this aspect of her departed parent: his preoccupation with cartography, atlases, and the distances between points.


(The entire section is 447 words.)