Picks and Pans Review: A Perfect Stranger

UPDATED 05/16/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/16/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Roxana Robinson

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The privileged characters in Roxana Robinson's astute third book of tales—some of them previously published—vacation in quaint French villages and visit horse ranches in Santa Fe. Their families are settled in private schools and comfortable homes. But they also struggle to reconcile traditional upper-middle-class mores and responsibilities with private understandings of family, sexuality and social convention. As the narrator of "The Face-lift" says: "There was a line to be drawn, and it had to do with integrity and honesty and probity."

Frequently, Robinson—whose prose may remind readers of John Cheever or even Anita Brookner—explores that line by showing how her characters respond when their balance is thrown off. In the affecting "At the Beach" a man is transfixed by watching a frantic mother search the dunes for her missing child. Set in Paris, "Pilgrimage" offers a revealing glimpse of a woman trying "to understand the aesthetic" of an obscure French antiques dealer.

Throughout, Robinson fills her pages with detailed, sensuous writing that strikes a deep emotional chord. What one young character learns about family is true for this splendid collection: It is "immanent with love and sorrow."

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