Author: Jeff Roberts
ISBN:  978-1-4327-2727-7
Publisher: Outskirts Press

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Intended as snapshots of life, each short story aims to capture a scene that reveals an emotion or event that reflects our humanness.  Most of these stories hit their mark but some are a little off-center in this debut collection of fiction by Jeff Roberts.

In these realistic tales of human flaws and disconnect, Roberts’ talent for creating atmosphere and setting is revealed:  His details envelope the reader in the mood of the piece–in a bar, in a hotel, waiting at home for a loved one.  The stories taken from Roberts life are the most integral and include my favorites:  The Red and the Black: about the birth of his child and the dying of his grandfather; Kisses: an homage to his mother; and Cosette: he recounts his daughter’s emotional bond with her cat.  (This one’s sad end brought tears).  I wish the story Iowa City was more developed as it had a lot of nostalgia potential.  I had some time-line confusion on this one with the jumping around.

Roberts can sketch a vivid male character but noticeable is the lack of fully developed female characters.  A majority of the women that are featured seem to be of the tight-skirted, loose-moral type.  Not that one has to have both sexes represented equally to make a good story; in other words, women will still be able to enjoy these stories because they are sentimental, ironic, and truthful (if you like that kind of thing).   The dialogue though, in some parts, was stunted and contrived, especially in A Triptych.  In this story a man with marital problems meets and older man on a bus who counsels him.  Maybe if they had disagreed at first, it would have been more interesting.  Married man just returns home and states to his wife, “I sat on the bus next to this old guy named Ron.  He had been married fifty or so years and we talked about this.  He convinced me we had to talk about this marriage and put it straight.”  I hesitate to put in this quote because, aside from some dialogue, there are many instances of lovely writing.  In Kisses:  “As she walked slowly past the other players lined up on the field, I felt as if someone had wrapped a cord around my chest under my shoulder pads and was slowly tightening it with each approaching step that she took.  As I handed my mother the rose, we did an awkward dance–I stuck out my hand, she leaned forward, I turned my head slowly, she grabbed my shoulder pads, I closed my eyes, and finally she kissed my cheek.”  Overall, the collection was enjoyable.

This was my introduction to Outskirt Press.  I was put-off by the absence of a Table of Contents and by the fourteen typos that I counted. 

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