Rarely are older women centered as protagonists in American fiction, a
fact that mirrors their marginalized role in society. In If
I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, her new collection of
stories, author Robin Black pushes back against this trend. Black's
bright and nuanced tales make protagonists of those who, in life as well
as in art, are more often caricatures. We meet a 70-year-old artist who
grieves the end of a romance while painting a dying man's portrait, a
woman in her mid-60s who makes an unexpected connection with a stranger
in Italy, and another older woman who lies about her recent stroke while
coming to terms with her daughter's marital infidelity.
Black talked with TAP about feminism, the political
implications of narratives in which older women play central roles,
whether social change can be instigated by art, and what it means to her
to be a widely heralded debut author in her 40s.
I should note that I thoroughly enjoyed If
I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, especially the title story and "Harriet Elliott," which originally appeared in One Story. For all the comparisons that Black has been getting to the (wide-ranging) likes of Alice Munro, Grace Paley, Mary Gaitskill, Lorrie Moore, and Margaret Atwood, I found her fiction to be striking and original, well-made tales that beat with a large heart. As well, I feel like I owe Black a great deal of gratitude: she's allowed me to play witness to her process of creating this book over the last many months, the experience especially of letting go of her work and putting it entirely in the hands of readers.
I also have a distinct memory of Black permitting myself and several others to use the television in her room to watch the national championship college football game one snowy day in January in North Carolina. Even though she wasn't interested in watching it herself. So there's that too.
- The Book Studio – "Overall it’s a strong collection with plenty to feast on, particularly
if you like your stories rich with emotion and introspection."
- Santa Cruz Good Times – "… if your soul yearns for the passion of
reality, the biting rawness of life and the recognition of the
inevitable, the 10 stories assembled in this collection may leave you
lachrymose, but with a strange craving for more."
- Library Journal (starred review) – "The winner of multiple literary awards, including repeat laurels
from the Pushcart Prizes, Black pits achingly believable characters who
could be our friends and neighbors—who could, indeed, be
ourselves—against life's heavy hitters: death, disability, disease, and
- Kirkus Review – "Sensitive insights conveyed in elegantly plain prose–an auspicious debut."
- Louisville Courier Journal – “A wonderfully rich and rewarding story collection by a debut writer
that's not to miss for fans of Alice Munro or Lorrie Moore."
- Publisher's Weekly – "… evocative and lyrical … "