Mary Robison Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Mary Robison’s first novel, Oh!, was published in 1981 by Alfred A. Knopf. The novel deals satirically with the problem of American family life. Oh! was followed ten years later by another novel, Subtraction (1991, also published by Knopf), which describes the difficulties that can arise when writers become teachers.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Mary Robison’s short fiction has often been compared to that of older, more established contemporary writers such as Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, and Frederick Barthelme because of its spare, laconic humor and its presentation of empty lives in a hopelessly materialistic society. Her story “Yours” was anthologized in Discovering Literature (2000), along with the work of Raymond Carver and Sandra Cisneros. She did receive high critical praise for her earliest stories, which appeared in The New Yorker, and her first collection of short fiction, Days, garnered outstanding notices from many literary critics and fellow writers, even though she was only thirty years old when it was published. Though her stories embody the cool precision that has become characteristic of The New Yorker, her style is anything but derivative. She possesses an authentically original voice and a writing style that captures, simultaneously, the stark banality and the comic irony of the late stages of the American Dream in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

She has received fellowships from the Yaddo Writers and Artists Colony (1978) and the Breadloaf Writers Conference (1979). She has been honored with awards by the Authors Guild (1979) and PEN (1979) and received a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Altner, Patricia. “Mary Robison.” In Contemporary Novelists, edited by Susan Windisch Brown. 6th ed. New York: St. James Press, 1996. Overview of Robison’s publications up to 1991, with generous quotations from initial reviews.

Angell, Roger, ed. Nothing But You: Love Stories from “The New Yorker.” New York: Random House, 1997. An interesting collection of items from The New Yorker, with an introduction by Angell.

Bell, Madison Smartt. “Less Is Less: The Dwindling American Short Story.” Harper’s 272 (April, 1986): 64-69. Argues that writers influenced by Robison, Ann Beattie, and Raymond Carver should resist their penchant for commercialism, homogeneity, and nihilism; critiques the “minimal” style, as characterized by obsession with surface detail, a tendency to slight distinctions, and a deterministic and even nihilistic worldview.

Birkerts, Sven. “The School of Lish.” The New Republic 195 (October 13, 1986): 28. Discusses the young writers, including Robison, nurtured by Knopf editor Gordon Lish; argues they represent a crisis in American literature, for they lack a vision of larger social connection; claims writers such as Robison falsify experience.

Flower, Dean. “An Amateur’s Guide to the Night.” The Hudson Review 37 (Summer, 1984): 307-308. Critic Flower finds the stories in An Amateur’s...

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