Returned last night from a wonderfully restorative less-than-24-hours away with my beloved spouse. It was kind of incredible what a difference it makes to pull away from the mad chaos of the household for even a few hours. We went to the rustic-beautiful Costanoa which was totally our aesthetic- cabinish but comfy. Good food (although I had a stomach bug and did not completely enjoy that part), the Best company in the world, and reading!
I know you're all sick of hearing about this, but we did read some more Gilead. Tears were shed once again. That's not all we read, though. He read some of Guns, Germs and Steel, which he's totally wild about these days, and I got into some stories from Roxana Robinson's spectacular collection, A Perfect Stranger. I've been reading this book very slowly over the past few months, parceling them out one by one because I don't want it to end. And for the first time this weekend, I noticed the amazing blurb on the cover:
Start in on any sentence and I'm absolutely sure you'll read to the end of the story, and of the book, and you'll come out of it feeling grateful, deeply stirred, seriously happy. -- Alice Munro
If I were Roxana Robinson and had received that kind of lauding from the great Alice M, I think I would be ready to die happy. But Alice is right. This is a fantastic collection, and the final story, "A Perfect Stranger," just blew me away. I had just finished giving a lecture to my students about POV (point of view), and I'd said how difficult it is to pull off an omniscient narrator, or shifting POVs in a short story. Well, Roxana makes it look like a piece of cake in this story. It is so seamless, elegant, and perfect, the way she slides from one character's POV to another. I was going to teach something else this week, but the syllabus has shifted - I'm teaching "A Perfect Stranger," right after an Alice Munro story. (What could be more fitting?)
And the story itself just hit me. A woman invites a visiting guest lecturer to spend the night at her home, without consulting her husband first. He feels put out, intruded upon, and she is having to juggle his (selfish, it seemed to me) emotions against making her guest feel comfortable. And the guest doesn't really understand the dynamics in the household, but still they affect him profoundly. It's a story in which nothing huge happens outwardly, but enormous things happen under the surface. It was so powerful and perceptive, it just left me in awe. It had some echoes of Raymond Carver's "Cathedral," which is also a mindblowing story about a reluctant husband-host dealing with his wife's houseguest.
I first discovered Roxana Robinson when I was at MacDowell Colony and found all of her books in their library. I devoured them all, one at a time, over the course of a few weeks and developed a profound admiration for her work. Her writing is quiet, solid, elegant, and deeply moving. Here's a great interview with her; I hope you'll check her out soon. In my mind, she is right up there with Alice Munro and Marilynne Robinson, although not as familiar to many readers. She should be.