THE BLIRBS FOR J. Jill Robinson's collection of short fiction Saltwater Trees (Arsenal Pulp Press, 15 5 pages, $11.95 paper) use terms like "visceral" and "earthy," which lead us to expect a gritty slice of real life. Unfortunately, the book is something less than a walk on the wild side.
While the author has a talent for creating quirky characters and situations, her writing focuses on minute details of sensation and thought, and consequently the stories lack animation. "Booze," for instance, is the interior monologue of a woman drinking herself into a stupor, but ultimately it's as dull and unrewarding as listening to any talkative drunk.
There's also a tendency to the heavyhanded use of irony, both in titles and in dramatic treatment. In "She Knows Her Tammy Wynette," an unfaithful lout plans to impregnate his long-suffering wife so that she'll be too busy to complain when he cheats on her. If the characters were treated less satirically, we'd feel sympathetic; as it is, the satire is more like pure sarcasm.
The final story, "Ice," and the first, 'Amy," are the pick of the lot. 'Amy." which won the Prism International fiction contest in 1989, shows Robinson at her best; it's a well-crafted and developed story that sensitively portrays a woman tormented by the demons of her abusive childhood.