Robinson, Lewis 1971-
ROBINSON, Lewis 1971-
PERSONAL: Born 1971, in Natick, MA; Education: Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, 1993; Iowa Writers' Workshop.
ADDRESSES: Home—Portland, ME. Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins, 10 East 53rd St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Teacher and writing fellow at Iowa Writers' Workshop; writer for Sports Illustrated and Boston Globe. Worked variously as fire warden, crab slaughterer, ferry worker, and scuba diver.
AWARDS, HONORS: Glenn Schaeffer Award, Iowa Writers' Workshop; Whiting Writer's Award, 2003.
Offıcer Friendly and Other Stories, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A first novel.
SIDELIGHTS: Author Lewis Robinson grew up in Yarmouth, Maine, and uses a fictional Maine locale for the eleven short stories in his first book, Offıcer Friendly and Other Stories. Robinson likely draws on some of the experiences from his own life—he has worked not only as a writer but also as a crab slaughterer and a scuba diver, among other occupations—in crafting his stories, which are set in the fictional rural seacoast town of Point Allison, Maine. Point Allison is in sharp contrast to nearby Portland, where Robinson now lives, and which also often figures into his stories. In an interview with Gina Carbone, of the Portsmouth Herald, Robinson called Maine "the default setting for my imagination," adding, "The possibilities for things to happen here are almost endless." Janet Maslin, in a review for the New York Times, found that Point Allison "contrasts postcard scenery with dark, mordant quirks."
Robinson's stories have been compared to those of Raymond Carver, J. D. Salinger, and others. They are most often about men, from coming-of-age stories to the end-of-life tale of a pompous, elderly politician. In the interview with Carbone, Robinson said his narrators "are kind of versions of me or manifestations of my imagined other career paths." Jeff Giles, in a review for Newsweek, remarked that the book "feels like a film festival." He observed that Robinson is interested in "how narrowly, and frequently, we escape tragedy." Mark Rozzo, of the Los Angeles Times, found this debut collection to have "the lustrous finish and satisfying heft of classic craftsmanship" and called it "refreshingly retrograde."
In the title story, "Officer Friendly," the teen narrator and his friend are chased by an officer for throwing bottle rockets. Their pursuer is a local policeman they knew from his visits to their elementary school but whom they now love to taunt. When the officer collapses from a heart attack, the boys must decide whether to help him.
In "The Diver," a Portland restaurateur sailing near Point Allison hires a salty local man to dive down and untangle the propeller of his yacht. The job done, the diver begins to taunt the yachtsman, Peter, whose wife and baby are also on board. "Observing Peter as he is honed by this sinister showdown is like watching someone sharpen a knife," Maslin wrote. A sinister progression of events leads to the diver's being struck on the head with an air tank. Adrienne Miller, in a review for Esquire, noted that the author "is tremendously adept at building menace slowly, quietly, and the shocks as these stories unfold is one of their great pleasures." The uneasy mixture of privileged visitors and the less-fortunate locals makes for good storytelling in Robinson's book. Yet, wrote Jonathan Miles, in the New York Times Book Review, it is "the interpretation (and misinterpretation) of those differences—often viewed through the prism of regional chauvinism" that makes for the best of these stories.
"Puckheads," the collection's longest and most humorous story, is the tale of two high-school hockey players who are dropped from the team for fighting and must join the drama club production of Oliver! A girl cast as one of the musical's leads falls for one of the boys, who plays the part of Oliver, and the two teammates end up vying for her attention. Michele Leber, of Booklist, called Puckheads "an exceptional coming-of-age story." In the interview with Carbone, Robinson said this was his own favorite.
In "The Toast," a Portland bartender is invited to a birthday party at a wealthy former Maine governor's home. Through a case of mistaken identity, he is asked to end the pompous old man's life to stop his suffering from cancer. Maslin thought this story's "perfectly realized denouement" represented the best of the book's "sly malevolence." Miles observed that in this story Robinson is "flirting with a waggish surrealism."
In "Ride," a teen boy's estranged truck-driving father has an unusual idea to help his son celebrate his birthday—he will steal the precious museum art he is hauling and take his son on a ride over the Canadian border with the loot.
"Cuxabexis, Cuxabexis" is the story of a young Manhattan woman medical student who falls in love with the ordinary Bill, from a remote Maine coastal island, Cuxabexis. When she finds herself pregnant, she realizes she loves the child she is carrying but cannot fathom living the rest of her life on the isolated island.
In "Seeing the World," an aspiring filmmaker from Portland is attracted to the pretty young daughter of a Point Allison fish-packing plant owner. A bit of Robinson's days as a crab slaughterer is revealed in a description of the girl's slapping squid against concrete to kill them. Diving for sea urchins for cash adds to the story's adventure.
"Finches" is the story of a man who works as a pet transporter and his fatal attraction to the beautiful woman Dayna. "Fighting at Night"'s character is training for a boxing match and must decide whether to take on the tough guy. In "The Edge of the Forest and the Edge of the Ocean," a man deals with middle age as his high-school friend contemplates suicide. "Eiders" reveals father-son complexities on a Thanksgiving duck hunt.
In the Portsmouth Herald interview, Robinson confided that his stories go through multiple revisions before he feels they are ready for publication. Nearly all are less than twenty pages, a tribute to his concise writing. Short stories, like poems, Robinson said, "are just glimpses. . . . they leave you longing for more."
A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that Robinson's "seductive, edgy voice" establishes him as a writer and that his "ingenious plotting and scene-setting . . . drive these coolly absorbing stories." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews, however, suggested that Robinson "find a different paradigm for his teenagers, always running after their cooler friend and the girl who got away." Frank Diller, in a review for Baltimore CityPaper Online, concluded that the stories, "lingering between realism and absurdity, offer a wonderful introduction to Lewis Robinson."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 2002, Michele Leber, review of Offıcer Friendly and Other Stories, p. 734.
Esquire, January 6, 2003, Adrienne Miller, review of Offıcer Friendly and Other Stories.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002, review of Off ıcerFriendly and Other Stories, p. 1651.
Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2003, Mark Rozzo, review of Offıcer Friendly and Other Stories, p. R14.
Newsweek, February 10, 2003, Jeff Giles, "A First-Timer Whose Aim Is True," p. 67.
New York Times, January 13, 2003, Janet Maslin, "A Town Where Quirky Meets Menacing," p. E8.
New York Times Book Review, March 2, 2003, Jonathan Miles, "No to Cuxabexis, and Alabama Too: Two Story Collections in Which Brides Would Rather Not Be Taken Home," p. 7.
Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, NH), January 19, 2003, Gina Carbone, "'Friendly' Voyage through Maine."
Publishers Weekly, November 18, 2002, review of Officer Friendly and Other Stories, p. 41.
Baltimore CityPaper Online,http:/www.citypaper.com/ (February 26-March 4, 2003), Frank Diller, review of Offıcer Friendly and Other Stories.
HarperCollins Web site,http://www.harpercollins.com/ (May 20, 2003), description of Offıcer Friendly and Other Stories.
Talking Leaves Books,http://www.tleavesbooks.com/ (March, 2003), review of Offıcer Friendly and Other Stories.*
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