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Jill Robinsons fourth collection of fiction, Residual Desire, contains a dozen short stories. Her heart was like an off-kilter washing machine appears in Déjà Vu, Robinsons second story. If Robinsons fiction is not overly kiltered, it appeals more to the heart because her characters are given more space to develop.
In the opening story the narrator visits her aging father and concludes: Growth and decay ... What an odd mixture. Nothing in its original form. This odd mixture of growth and decay characterizes most of the stories in Residual Desire. The negatives in nothing in its original form and You Are Not Yourself Right Now yield positive results. A rural resignation dominates these stories: in Déjà Vu Iris settles for the lesser of two evils after she visits her ex-husband and realizes that she can never go home again. Tears of residual desire find their objective correlative in cleansing Kleenex. After the déjà vu, Iriss tearful eyes awaken to the truth: Love didnt always conquer all, not by a long shot. And no amount of magic could truly have cleansed the angry, resentful, hurtful old life she had made them lead, the one with hostility plastered thick and hard on every surface. Not a chance. Not a hope. She deserved anything that happened to her. And she had better be willing to face the music. She faces the music in just the right notes of those parallel negatives in a minor key characteristic of Alice Munros early short stories.
Pets and people get brutalized and buried in Robinsons fiction. Homoerotic desire surfaces in Midnight At the Oasis.
She feels fingers titillate her, duck inside her and out again, fluttering, trace lightly up to her breasts and down again. Once the orgasm subsides she finally admits to herself that she has felt the beginning of this arousal before. The almost audible buzz when their arms touched as they sat together on the garden swing and the golden hair on Maidies warm brown forearm brushed against hers.
Residual desire arises from a mixture of attraction and repulsion to an old flame. The narrator in the final story visits her lover of yesteryear and concludes: I have grown scar tissue on a colourful assortment of wounds. I have wrestled most of my demons to the ground. The uncanniness of residual desire assures us that most, but not all, demons have been exorcized. Wrestling with fiction keeps us on and off kilter; sometimes, even for Don Quixote, the scars and demons are no laughing matter.
Michael Greenstein (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada
J. Jill Robinson is the author of three previous collections of fiction, and her work has appeared in numerous anothologies and journals across Canada as well as on CBC Radio. Born and raised in Langley, B.C., she has attended university in Surrey, Calgary and Lethbridge, and she received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. She lives in Saskatoon with her husband, the poet Steven Ross Smith, and their young son.