“Mary Robison’s short stories are short, subtle, and substantial . . . Her ironic sense of detail bursts from every sentence.” —VogueAn Amateur’s Guide to the Night stands as a perfect example of Mary Robison’s beloved narrative style: purposeful, clipped, and devastating in its restraint. Reflecting on the life of disaffected youth, these stories speculate on how they often manage to remain deferent towards the rest of society–and document how spectacularly they often fail. “These thirteen stories are glimpses from a moving train into lit parlors, dinettes, bedrooms and dens . . . Think of Robison as the engineer, blowing the whistle, calling the stops and starts; invisible when you want to ask her why we’re stalled here in the middle of nowhere, between stations, jobs, relationships and decisions.” —Los Angeles Times
An Amateur’s Guide to the Night
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MARY ROBISON was born in Washington, D.C. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, an O. Henry Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and the 2018 Arts and Letters Award in Literature. She is the author of four novels and four story collections. She lives in Gainesville, Florida.
"Robison's talent for observation makes for microscopic wonders of details: the menu items at a cheap diner in Providence, R.I.; the furnishings of a Laundromat, and the text of gift-wrap stickers ('Grin and Ignore It, ' 'Things Are Getting Worse--Send Chocolate!'), in small-town Ohio." --Chicago Tribune"Thirty precision-built short stories old and new by a writer who extracts a maximum of meaning and feeling from a minimum of words make for a thrilling collection. Robison's stories . . . come at the reader from oblique angles, skittering like a leaf in the wind until, suddenly, everything begins to make quirky but gratifying sense. A deft conjurer of place, Robison is most intrigued with the telegraphic dialogue with which annoyed but loving family members communicate with each other and with the oddball configurations the concept of family can yield. Like Ann Beattie, Robison neatly exposes the pathos beneath the placid veneer of middle-class life, the seeds of chaos in seemingly orderly existences, and finds sweet humor and bemused hope in our stubborn quest for security, even happiness." --Donna Seaman, Booklist "Thirty brief, sharply delineated short stories written over three decades by Robison chronicle emotional dislocation with witty dispassion . . . Nothing is superfluous, and in the spare sadness of Robison's prose entire lives are presented." --Publishers Weekly "Mary Robison's stories are infused with a quiet menace. The trick of her writing is the way she uses the reader's own expectations to create that sense of unease. Her stories--published over the years in The New Yorker and now collected in Tell Me--are made of handfuls of moments, put together without benefit of the usual revelatory short story structure . . . Robison is the rare minimalist whose bare-bones fiction is actually a pleasure to read." --Claire Dederer, author of Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses Praise for Why Did I Ever Winner of the LA Times Book Prize for Fiction in 2001 "Mary Robison, almost as an afterthought, has created a novel that speaks volumes about life in Los Angeles: its stopping and starting, its rushing and emoting, its whimsy and its suspicious, subversive humor . . . " --Los Angeles Times Book Review "Tense, moving, and hilarious . . . [a] dark jewel of a novel." --Francine Prose, O: The Oprah Magazine "An epic portrayed in miniature, a cry of cosmic pain in a voice of absurdist humor, an earnest insistence on maternal love in the language of skepticism and family dysfunction. It's an amazing little book: all of Robison's minimalist genius is at work here." --Cathleen Schine, New York Times Book Review "I wish to hell I could write prose like this . . . The joy in this novel is for the reader, not the characters. Read it." --David Gates, Newsweek "The author, who is known as a minimalist, here creates a narrative out of fragmented paragraphs, and the book works best when she strips Money's most explicit fears away. A simple sentence fragment--'Canoe, moon, ukelele'--seems a close to perfect expression of lost beauty." --The New Yorker "[A] tour de force of minimalist yet mind-expanding prose . . . [Robison] makes you think--hard--about life's unavoidable travails, while making it impossible for you to suppress a smile." --Lisa Shea, Elle "What makes Money memorable, and Mary Robison essential, is that her fundamental bearings are the right ones. Love and compassion are her nature, and they suffuse the page whenever she is talking about her children, even the exasperating daughter." --Richard Dyer, Boston Globe "Why Did I Ever is a rarity: an experimental novel that's both engaging and wholly successful." --Time Out New York "Robison . . . possesses a precocious alertness to the incongruities of life. . . . [A]t the center is a disciplined and clear-headed novel full of humor and an occasional glimmer of optimism." --Rob Stout, The Charlotte Observer "I wish to live in [Money's] mind for a while because its perilously funny pratfalls make me want to laugh so badly that I cannot laugh at all." --Molly McQuade, Newsday "At once heartwrenching and bitterly comical . . . a stunning work of unbridled honesty." --The Village Voice "It is a rare novel that can manage to convey the coexistence of tragedy and pleasure so immediately without lessening the reader's enjoyment of either." --The New Leader "While Money is the definition of sad insanity, Robison's voice is witty and cutting, albeit undeniably weird. . . . It's more than worth the ride." --Entertainment Weekly "Robison's fiercely offhand banter cuts through any possible cavity of bullshit . . . Each passage assumes the feel of veracity of idea over unnecessary execution, as if we are being shown the tools that build a universe rather than the universe itself . . . Everything is treasure. And by the sheer mass of its weight in such small space, the reader is forced to slow down, to hear the lines again inside her head instead of only on the page, and to parse what those lines might be trying to communicate, if anything." --Blake Butler, Vice "Robison's characters are vivid, colorful, and likable, and their story is absorbing. Her humorous presentation does not cheapen the tragic content of her novel but realistically portrays one method of survival. Highly recommended." --Library Journal "Robison's incandescent soliloquy on the absurdity of existence hones fiction to a new and exhilarating measure of sharpness." --Donna Seaman, Booklist "Mary Robison is, and always has been, a wonderful writer. Why Did I Ever is startling, deft, extremely attractive, and smart--very smart--in its midnight vision of the lived life." --Richard Ford, author of Independence Day "Mary Robison has done for the Hollywood culture of our time what Joan Didion did thirty years ago. Spare and ruthless, precisely chiseled, Why Did I Ever is the Play It As It Lays of the twenty-first century." --Madison Smart Bell, author of All Souls' Rising "Mary Robison's stunned and plunging characters are the truth. This is pure, grim poetry." --Barry Hannah, author of High Lonesome "Deeply strange, hilarious, heartbreaking, and just stupidly great. . . . Robison is something approaching brilliant, and Why Did I Ever is hard-bound proof." --Darcy Cosper, author of Wedding Season Praise for Subtraction "Robison raises sitcom wit to the level of real emotional situations, real comedy and real art." --The Chicago Tribune "In Subtraction, Mary Robison creates a poignant, forceful tale of lovers in limbo. Her writing is rich with detail, lean with implication. When the tedium, the drudgery, the ephemera are sifted out, we're left with the intense. Each word pulls its weight. Nothing is wasted." --The Millions "Robison delivers a sparkling valentine about a Harvard poetess and her great love for a drunken Dean Moriarty type, at his best when he's on the road . . . A funny, beautifully written novel, dry and bubbly as good champagne." --Kirkus Reviews "There isn't a writer working today who sees the world, or hears it, or inhabits it more fearlessly than Mary Robison. Reading Subtraction is falling in love with her--her voice, her verbs, the peculiar squinted view she has. This is the book we all wanted to write. It's as smart as snakes. It's a work of generosity and genius, of perfect timing and pitch, of immense sadness, and singular, driving hope. I can scarcely imagine anyone writing a novel half as stunning anytime soon." --Frederick Barthelme, author of There Must Be Some Mistake Praise for Believe Them "Sorrow and pain are underground messages in these finely made stories . . . Robison uses a minimalist discipline and barely ruffled surfaces, but her hidden pictures of childhood and other states of vulnerability can be boundless in their emotion." --Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review "Robison's methods allow the careful reader an honest perspective into lives usually dealt with either melodramatically or contemptuously by other authors." --Larry McCaffery, The New York Times Book Review Praise for Oh! "Oh! I loved Oh! It's hilarious. Maybe it's brilliant. In any case, it will be one of the best funny books of 1981, and it's serious." --Boston Globe "At first, Oh! seems a satire, a sitcom stripped of its sentiment and foolishness. But it is far more. Mary Robison is trying to show us how the the incredibly complicated dance of family life works, how it balances love and hate, respect and contempt, humor and self-righteousness, wisdom and foolishness." --The New Yorker "The Wonder of the novel is its dialogue--rich, sharp, untiring in its energy and quite unlike anyone else's. . . . They are a resilient bunch, these Clevelands, and by the end of the books we are no longer surprised that they are still together. Once drawn into the stream of their talk, we can no more escape than they can." --Larry McMurtry, The Washington Star Praise for Days "There is an almost incredible purity of line and texture in these stories. Every phrase is lucid, every character comes alive, and every sentence suggests a calm, wise, heartbroken version of the world. Robison writes like an avenging angel, and I think she may be a genius." --Richard Yates "These are not stories so much as splinters of contemporary life, set under a microscope . . . there is humor here, as well as deadpan exactitude . . . Mary Robison's style at its best is stripped, incisive, clear as a piece of glass held up the the light." --Ann Tyler Praise for Mary Robison "The kind of attention Robison pays is the kind that makes the reviewer, the reader, wonder: What does it all--the events of a story; the events of a life--mean? . . . For Robison, it is the act of attention, and not the object, that matters." --Miranda Popkey, Harper's Magazine "Robison has achieved that superlative unity of voice, style, and character known as total effect. Every sentence is clean as a sun-bleached bone, and scenes rarely start or end where you think they would, but there is always meaning being made, withholding and then revealing itself like a well-bluffed hand of cards. Much of the pleasure of reading Robison is in the way she jukes and swerves, the way she creates narrative gaps for the sheer thrill of leaping them, an Evel Knievel of the section break . . . Here's to the return of Mary Robison . . . Long may she reign." --The Sewanee Review