Robin Black's Fascinating (Older) Women

"Late June, the garden was still more beautiful than demanding."

No Fading Away
Robin Black's short story collection If I Loved You I Would Tell You This is full of women the French would describe, with pseudo-gallant euphemism, as being "d'un certain âge," but one of the wonderful things about Black's writing is her characters' unconcern with ageist euphemism--they are forging on and fully entwined with life. Black lavishes vivid prose and rich context on each of her stories, which makes them extremely satisfying, even if you're a reader who usually prefers novels. Because it's almost Mother's Day, I'd like to tell you that this book, just out in paperback, would make an excellent gift for a mother of any age.

Listen to Black
When I listened to Robin Black's interview with Ed Champion for his Bat Segundo Show podcast, posted in April 2010, shortly after If I Loved You I Would Tell You This came out in hardback, I was not surprised to hear her say:

"I think that the most interesting people I meet are older women.... The way that older women are looked at in society, which is to say barely at all, and the degree to which women do become increasingly invisible as they outlive societal notions of what's sexy, and why one might look at a woman--there's a wonderful discrepancy between what people think they're looking at when they look at older women, and what's actually going in that woman's life and in her consciousness. Any time you have characters who are leading essentially undercover lives, you have tremendous fictional potential." (Minutes 29-31)

This is one of the pleasures of the collection--Black reveals the inner thoughts and corporeal reality of fascinating (older) female characters as they experience both loss and joy with intelligence, perspective, and wit. Black's work shows that life as an older woman is not the wan diminishment or the goofy-granny gavotte that popular American culture often projects. Nor does her collection, though female-centric and full of powerful emotion, contain a speck of that acidic quality--stridency--that is sometimes used to dismiss a strong female point of view. And there are also men: one of my favorite stories in the collection, "In A Country Where You Once Lived," is told from a male point of view, and the men in the lives of the female-narrated stories are as human as the women.

The Close-Reading Bat
Like many of Ed Champion's interviews, the Robin Black episode of the The Bat Segundo Show contains a lot of discussion about the writing process based on a careful reading of the text, and Black is both open and articulate about her methods. She talks about "ruminating" at the keyboard, the separation of fiction and autobiography (memoir) in her work, and says, "When you write stories, what you're really exposing are your obsessions, and it's much more like showing somebody your dreams. What you make up I think is infinitely more personal that what you choose to recount from your own life." (Minute 7) The latter half of the 53-minute episode gets more craft-oriented, with interesting exchanges between Champion and Black about: sentiment and sentimentality, the use of gesture and facial description, the defamiliarization of sex, the impact of names on narrative distance, and even Black's strategy to avoid the overused trinity effect: she lists things in twos and fours, not threes.

Black on Black
Here's the link to the post Black mentions at Minute 17 about "Going Long" for The Story Prize blog. Black also regularly posts excellent essays on writing at BeyondTheMargins.com (viz this one on beginnings).

FTC Disclosure: I received a free galley for the hardback publication of If I Loved You I Would Tell You This when I reviewed it for The Book Studio in April 2010 (the review no longer available online). The Bat Segundo Show podcasts are free, but donations are welcome.


  1. Great post, Holloway. I listened to the podcast when it came out and loved being reminded of these highlights. Also appreciate your cites!

    My paperback copy arrived last night, and I hope to settle in with the new story and the interview later this afternoon.

  2. Thanks, Cynthia! I'm also looking forward to the new story...it's supposed to be funny, right?

  3. Hi Ed, My pleasure. I'm consistently impressed with your Bat Segundo Show podcast--it's one of my regular listening stops. I'm also in awe of how many you do and how well you prepare.