I am a huge fan of Robin Romm, but I have yet to read her latest gem. If you have read The Mercy Papers, let me know what you think.
The foundational condition of being human is that we’re going to die. Almost as basic a truth is that we seem incapable of believing it. The collision of these inconsonant facts is the spark that ignites Robin Romm’s memoir, “The Mercy Papers,” a furious blaze of a book. The title is inapt: there is little mercy in these pages. As Romm herself writes, “Maybe the problem is God, the lack of God, the lack of mercy, of grace.” Read the rest of the review
The Mother Garden, Robin Romm's debut, holds a place of honor on my bookshelf. I often describe this book as, "My favorite short story collection." (Okay, I'll admit I have a few favorites in this category)
Here is what NYT's Book Review Gregory Cowles has to say about The Mother Garden...
"Despite their confident, straightforward prose and their crystalline surface gloss, which recall Ann Beattie's early slice-of-life stories, Romm's narratives -- call them slice-of-death -- turn out to revel in ambiguities and even a gentle magic....But Romm is a close-up magician, more intimate and less instinctively fabulist, and most of her work leaves room for rational interpretation. No magic here, Romm seems to insist. But of course there is, and it's the oldest kind we know: the ordinary incantation of words and stories to help us navigate the darkness and finally -- for all that this impressive collection protests otherwise -- to hold the end at bay."
— Gregory Cowles
Read the rest of the New York Times Book Review
Here is a review I wrote about Weight, one of the stories featured in this linked collection...
When Your Mother is Dead and Your Father is an Asshole
What happens when forgiveness seems impossible? This is the ground explored in Robin Romm’s short story, Weight. Nested between No Small Feat and Celia’s Fish in Romm’s collection, The Mother Garden, Weight weaves together those moments when anger, remorse, distrust and fear give way to expose the vulnerability and hurt that is humanity.
Weight belongs to the half of the collection that does not depend on magical motifs to get the point across. By sticking to real world absurdities in six of her stories, Romm makes a point about our anything-goes-society. In Weight, Romm’s protagonist opts for a crash diet that involves being locked in “a dark space” while a loved one “berate[s]” her. Absurd? Yes. Impossible? No.
The Mother Garden’s mix of magical realism and morbid reality offers a soothing cadence for exploring the heavy topic of families coping with loss. Where less skillful writers might lose readers inside death’s house of horrors, The Mother Garden makes for a comfortable roost outside death’s door, a place where humor alternates with pain and the living peacefully coexist with the magical.
The titles within the collection are equally ripe with symbolism. Weight literally connects to obesity— a central theme in the story— beginning with the too tight skirt that triggers Lori’s reflection on her own mother’s weight gain. “The clothes she wore, once tailored to show off her narrow waist and long legs, turned to large T-shirts, elastic waist jeans.” Figuratively, the title alludes to the emotional burden Lori carries. “It’s your fault.” Lori thinks after her father leaves. “You drove him away.”
When the zipper tears from her skirt—the superficial armor protecting Lori from her past breaks loose— and the blame she places on her mother is revealed. “…to be fat was the worst fate imaginable, worse even than cancer because at least cancer earned you pity.”
Despite interwoven memories of Lori’s mother, the story centers on the father daughter relationship after the “unorthodox” diet leads to her estranged father. Who better to berate her, then the man who berated her own mother? Weight plumbs the emotional depths of damaged father daughter relationships much more than Lost and Found’s light-hearted sarcasm and the somber disconnect found in Celia’s Fish.
“We stared at each other, the way a deer and a coyote might stare at each other in a field,” Lori says, after her father’s attempt turns into a half-hearted warning that is more an atonement for his own actions than anything else. When Lori’s father finally admits that he made a mistake and never should have left, we too experience a jaw dropping moment as we struggle to identify the reasons behind his decision, and on whom to place the blame.
Ultimately, Weight captures three people in pain grappling with the deeply flawed reality of each other. “I hope someday you can forgive everyone,” Lori’s mother says before she dies. “Including yourself.” This story makes clear that sometimes forgiveness is only possible without the weight of right and wrong.