If I Loved You I Would Tell You This is American author, Robin Black’s, first book. This collection of ten short stories delves deep into the minefield of human relationships.
One of the things I found quite lovely about this book was the varied female characters. The first story, The Guide, features a sharp-talking blind girl who knows more about her parents’ marriage than they think. In If I Loved You, the story which gives its name to the collection, a woman tries to get inside the head of her uncaring neighbour who is building a high fence.
Other stories showcase the inevitable cheating husbands and cheating wives with all the pain and wanting this entails. Immortalising John Parker introduces an aging painter mourning for the loss of her illicit lover. In an unusual and tender image she reflects that; “fighting off the moment of conversation had been like fighting off an orgasm, the delay designed to increase the pleasure.”
The stories often draw elements together in surprising ways. In Pine a woman who has lost a leg is juxtaposed with a woman who has lost her husband. Black writes of the unspoken conversation between men and women. “This dishonesty of ours, as we prop each other up, tell one another jokes... It is the force of this pretence that pulls our words endlessly into those places of intimacy.” I’m sure we’ve all been there.
There were so many lines I wanted to quote. Take this philosophical turn from Gaining Ground, “‘So what?’ I can still hear him say, like when we first met. ‘So what?’ I just think there’s an answer to that. Even if I haven’t found it yet. I just think there has to be.” Me too.
Black’s writing is pared down, with a strong voice that draws the reader in. She has a knack of finding words for feelings that run so deep they are hard to voice, giving you that ‘aha’ feeling you get with the best writing. I would have gladly read a novel based on any of these stories, such was my interest in the characters. Clearly this is a book written by a woman has been around a bit. Black shares generously what she has learnt in her travels through the heart.