Officer Friendly and Other Stories
Lewis Robinson is one of the most talented writers you've never read. His debut collection arrives fully formed, without a single tale appearing in the journals and magazines where young literary finds are supposed to hone their craft. And that makes reading each of his deceptively good stories all the more exciting.
A New England native and graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Robinson's fictional Point Allison, Maine, initially seems to be populated by the refugees of the nation's creative-writing programs: The journeyman boxer, the kid who hates hunting with his father, troublemaking teens, and the mysterious old local drift through town in search of a defining moment to call their own. But Robinson almost always transcends expectations with a crisp, immediate style that lends itself to sudden plot twists and tonal shifts.
In "The Toast," a bartender visits his mother and stepfather for the weekend. On their way to a lavish party, the narrator's mom warns, "[Y]ou've got to watch these people and their rhetoric. . . . They think they're right all the time--and most of the time they are. But once in a while, you catch them exaggerating, you catch them in a wild exaggeration. It's some kind of Point Allison thing." This becomes prophetic when, in an apparent case of mistaken identity, the bartender is expected to shoot their terminally ill party host.
Robinson toys with various degrees of boasts and exaggerations throughout his collection. "Ride" follows a teenager celebrating his birthday with his estranged truck-driving dad as they haul a painting across New York state. When the father announces his intention to steal his own cargo, the kid endures a half-witted plan and an interminable wait at the Canadian border. "Seeing the World" pairs a 17-year-old movie theater employee with his 35-year-old colleague as they seek out cash, adventure, and romance by diving for sea urchins. And "Puckheads" uses dense, hockey-playing friends to great effect by squaring them off in both a love triangle and a mandatory performance of their school's musical production of Oliver!
These 11 stories, lingering between realism and absurdity, offer a wonderful introduction to Lewis Robinson. Here's hoping this is just the first chapter of a memorable writing career.