Picks and Pans Review: A Glimpse of Scarlet

updated 08/26/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/26/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Roxana Robinson

They are people of privilege, Robinson's characters in this uneven short story collection. They have town houses in New York City, and outside the city they have expansive summer houses. They are the adult children of divorce (for which they have never quite forgiven their parents), and/or they are on their second marriages (for which their own children have not quite forgiven them).

In one strong story, "The Time for Kissing," a mother of four, who traded in a charming ne'er-do-well husband for a charmless rich man, exacts a cruel toll from her family. In the fine title tale, a married woman gets wistful for bygone splendor in the grass when she witnesses an adultery.

Robinson makes clear that she knows the detritus of divorce. "Lisa's past, like Steven's, was now too large to own," she writes in "Night Vision." "He had owned his first wife's past, he knew her early loves, her childhood, and he had offered up his own. But he and Lisa each had a great failure behind them—there were things he could not bear to know about her, and things of his own he would rather not share.... Second marriages had this lack of transparency: there were things better not brought to light."

Despite such trenchant observations, there is an obviousness to some stories. In "Second Chances," for instance, preparation of a pecan pie becomes an overworked metaphor for the fragility of relationships—and in too many others there is a repetitiveness of theme, pacing and denouement. (HarperCollins, $18.95)

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