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Officer Friendly and Other Stories by Lewis…

Officer Friendly and Other Stories

by Lewis Robinson

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Lewis Robinson captures Mid-coast Maine and its characters in these finely-told stories. ( )
  jimnicol | Sep 26, 2014 |
A terrific set of stories set in the fictional town of Point Allison, Maine, that is a recurring "character" through all the pieces. It is the "remote, depressed part of Maine that doesn't get much traffic" [from "The Diver"]; where "everyone knows everyone" [from "The Finches"]; and "no one likes the people who come here in the summer [from "Seeing the World"].

Robinson populates this world with fascinating characters: the diver who has nothing but disdain for the weekend yachtsman who is helpless when a rope gets caught in his propeller; the foolish but indefatigable truck-driving father who has a plan to get rich by stealing the painting he's been asked to transport from the Metropolitan Museum; and the feisty teenager, who won't listen to her high school play director because she wants to take the well-known orphan from Oliver Twist and spice him up with some sex in their production of Oliver!

Robinson also captures arresting visual images: a father who lies on seaweed and rocks as he duck hunts, with his body and rifle forming a perfect line to the horizon; the fogs that sets in on a backyard boxing ring as the boxer waits for the big fight that will end his short-lived taste of local fame; the ne-er do well who saves a bunch of finches from being snake food and then releases them on a crowded bridge.("One after the next they dropped in a brief free fall from the truck, caught the updraft, and vanished through the suspension cables.")

But in this insular world that is not very welcoming and not easily understandable to outsiders, the problems are familiar - absent or unreliable fathers, relationships that don't click, lives that don't measure up to each person's hopes and expectations for themselves.

The 11 stories in the collection are:

1. The Diver - 21 pp - A Portland restaurant owner, Peter, gets stranded on his boat when a rope gets tangled in the propeller. He swims to Point Allison to enlist the support of a diver. The diver, in a condescending and patronizing fashion (he keeps calling Peter "friend"), makes Peter feel stupid for everything he says and does. Peter himself fears he must seem like a "jack$**" yachtsman." After the diver disentangles the rope, Peter's wife, Margaret, invites the diver for a dinner of mussels with them and their infant daughter on the boat. As the diver keeps teasing and putting Peter down, and making crass comments about Margaret when she's below deck, it's unclear just how menacing he is going to be.

2. Officer Friendly - 10 pp - Two high school hockey players are causing trouble, sending bottle rockets over traffic. An officer arrives on the scene and chases them and catches one of them. The caught boy knows the policeman because he was the one who gave anti-drug lectures at his elementary school as "Officer Friendly." The cop also knows the boy because his son is on the hockey team. When the friend who escaped returns, disguised as a bum, to distract the cop and free his friend from the police car, the cop gives chase again, and this time he experiences what may be the start of a heart attack. As he struggles on the ground, the boys have to decide whether to help him get his nitroglycerin tablet or escape with their freedom.

3. The Edge of The Forest and the Edge of The Ocean - 26 pp - A man who has come back to his hometown to teach at the junior high begins an affair with a fellow teacher whom he's had a crush on since their high school days together. Back then, he never had the nerve to connect with her. Even though she's married to a cop now, the onset of their affair has him in a blissful state until he drives to work and discovers his best friend in high school on a bridge. In their school days, that friend had aggressively dared him to hang as long as he could off a catwalk on the same bridge. Since then he's lost touch with the friend, and the friend has fallen on hard times. Now he has to wonder if the friend is there to commit suicide.

4. The Toast - 16 pp - The one departure from realistic story-telling, as Robinson has fun with a slightly surreal premise. An old man dying of cancer holds a lavish party, and a young man who's just visiting town to meet his mother's new second husband, is invited along. At the party, a sexy bartender gives the man a gun and her imposing football-lineman sized brother asks him to kill the older gentleman and put him out of misery before he has to undergo the long, painful ordeal of dying from pancreatic cancer - a proposal his mother, after warning him about how wild and exaggerated the people from Point Allison talk, seems to fully endorse.

5. Ride - 22 pp - A teenaged boy who has only seen his father about twice a year since he moved out on him and his mother six years ago takes a trip with his father, now a freight truck driver, on his 16th birthday. The son thinks it'll be a great adventure, but his father has other plans. The only item in his cargo compartment is a painting they pick up from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and are supposed to deliver to someplace (a private collector?) in the upstate city of Plattsburgh. But en route the father explains he has another one of his cockamamie get-rich-quick schemes - a fake "hijacking" that will yield him a share of the profits when the painting is sold to an illicit buyer. As the father bumbles through his inept plans to become a criminal, it's clear the boy has to act like a father to the man.

6. Cuxabexis, Cuxabexis - 20 pp - A pregnant medical student, Eleanor, and her boyfriend, Bill, a food writer, travel back to his hometown of Cuxabexis, an island off the coast of Maine. While staying with Bill's aunt, Eleanor decides to reveal that she's pregnant - news that later gets blared over the loud speaker at a pep rally for the school's basketball team. (The title, "Cuxabexis, Cuxabexis," is the school fight song.) At the rally, Eleanor also learns Bill was a former star for the team. While connecting with Bill's family, Eleanor daydreams what her future as a mother will hold. There's an interesting undercurrent here about physicality. Eleanor had to teach Bill to be a more interesting lover than a simple piston, but she also has a taste for foreplay that resembles wrestling. She is uncomfortable with cutting open conscious pigs in her surgical training classes, but on the island people have an earthiness that gives them a different relationship with animals. After serving a rabbit dish, Bill's aunt openly admits she likes watching rabbits mate and encourages Eleanor to visit the farm where they're raised. When Eleanor does, the farmer is killing and skinning the rabbits, and Eleanor helps him tie one down before he slaughters it. Meanwhile, Bill is on the court, trying to prove to his nephew, the latest star of the basketball team, that he still has some game.

7. Fighting at Night - 14 pp - An amateur fighter decides to take on an experienced boxer. The story is all about his preparation. His trainer is a woman he shares a house with, along with her boyfriend. To train, he takes on everyone in town willing to spar with him in a makeshift ring they've built in their backyard. He beats all the men in town, including the owner of the hardware store and a few lobstermen. The story takes us right up to the start of the big fight - and details his chance to feel like a champion among all the men in his town. We don't get to see the actual big fight, although the outcome of that seems fairly obvious.

8. Eiders - 14 pp - A father who left his family tries to reconnect with his son while duck hunting. The son expresses his anger by refusing to aim at the birds. Upset that his son isn't honest about his deliberate refusal to hit any targets, the father struggles to articulate why he left but all he can really do is take down more birds, one after another.

9. Seeing the World - 22 pp - 17-year-old Sam becomes an unlikely friend of 35-year-old Johan, when the older man takes a job at the Portland movie theater where Sam works. Sam is an aspiring moviemaker and always has a video camera with him, shooting the daily events of his life and hoping he'll be able to use the footage for his first movie. After reading an article, Johan convinces Sam they can make a killing gathering sea urchins and selling their eggs to the Japanese. Sam's never been anywhere, and he's hungry for experience to fuel his career. He moves down to Point Allison with Johan and they break into an empty summer rental house and begin squatting there. At a fish store, they meet a woman who can actually doing the diving for them. They become an unlikely trio and the woman teaches Sam to dive. Sam develops a crush on her, but wonders if he'll become a third wheel. With his aspirations of becoming a filmmaker intact, Sam has to decide whether he can go through life as a doer or a watcher.

10. Puckheads -42 pp - Two brawling high school hockey players -- Daniel and William, the narrator -- get kicked off the hockey team for causing a near riot at a game. To stay in the private school they attend, they're forced to join the drama club, which is putting on a production of Oliver! There they both develop a crush on a new girl, Christina, a bold young lady and committed actress who's unwilling to take any direction from the drama teacher because she has her own ideas about how the play should be done. ("I think we need to play up the sex.") The two hockey players compete for her attention, and she gets involved with both of them, but it's not clear if she is genuinely interested or trying to inspire better performances out of each of them. When she's making out with William in a school closet, she tells him: "Stop thinking about me as Christina. Think about Nancy [her character], and I'll think about Oliver [his]. It's much easier that way." She does inspire them to take improvisational license, so that their production begins to look like a hockey game.

11. Finches - 17 pp - A terrific character study of a guy who's never been able to hold down jobs or relationships for the long term. He's mistrustful of people and animals, as he notes that compared with human, animals "are equally petty, equally irrational and loathsome." He's working as a delivery man for a veterinarian, but he knows he'll quickly screw up this job as he has every previous one he's had: "if people expect me to disappoint them, I'll do my very best to meet their expectations." He remembers fondly the day he met Dayna, who's recently moved to Point Allison from New York, when he returns her parrot to her loft in a former sardine factory - a very New York, not Maine-like space. Even though the story lets us know he ended up dating Dayna for a year, the piece focuses on that first meeting because, in his view, "The best part had been the beginning, when everything was unknown." And that day may have been his proudest moment: when, with Dayna by his side, he released into the wild a bunch of finches that he rescued from a pet store owner with a snake that would have ended up eating them all.
( )
  johnluiz | Aug 6, 2013 |
One of those short story books that you can't put down. ( )
  EctopicBrain | Jul 31, 2012 |
One might surmise that after reading Lewis Robinson's collection of short stories entitled Officer Friendly and Other Stories, his setting would most invariably be located in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps in Alaska. Though no less intriguing than the storylines from the shows Twin Peaks or even Northern Exposure, the content of Robinson's stories actually take place in the surprisingly curious state of Maine.

Robinson's collection is an interesting insight just beyond the seemingly perpetual thaw of Maine, not only into local hunting or hockey cultures, but of the ever changing relationships formed in the snow, along the coast and within the forest. Often the stories deal with an emergence into adulthood, but more so the rites of passages faced by many in Maine, whatever their ages.

The stories themselves range from the creepy to the serenely cathartic, though like the weather, they're always in a state of flux hovering just around the thaw. Take for example, the stories The Diver, The Toast, and Ride ; both are increasingly unsettling to say the least, as they introduce to the reader the unfamiliar eccentricities of being foreign to the Northeast. Puckheads, Seeing the World and Fighting at Night, on the other hand, deliver a sense of fulfillment no matter what was sacrificed from each character.

One captivating attribute of the book is that as a whole, time is not necessarily linear. The setting can resemble the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald or perhaps that of last March. Whether duck hunting with one's father, evading a policeman in the snow, preparing to fight someone named Brick Chickisaw, or leaving home to fish for urchin on a whim, Robinson evokes a sense of wonder and exhilaration regardless of what era he writes. ( )
  gonzobrarian | Jun 9, 2009 |
An impressive debut collection. Robinson resides in Portland, Maine, so it's not surprising that all the stories are set in that rural northeast corner. I found the stories quirky and poignant with the dominant theme being young boys' coming-of-age. The stories didn't feel redundant, even though they are all set in the town of Point Allison. I was much more satisfied with this collection than with "You Are Not a Stranger Here" by Adam Haslett, which came out around the same time and received much more hype. I'm looking forward to reading more of Robinson's work in the future. ( )
  hayduke | Jun 19, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060513683, Hardcover)

The stories in this sparkling debut collection all take place in the state of Maine -- which, in the hands of this madly talented young writer, quickly comes to stand for the state we're all in when we face the moments that change our lives forever. Two young hooligans have to decide whether to help the cop who has a heart attack while he's chasing them, or to cut and run. A young man at a party of coastal aristocrats has to deal with the surreal request to put a rich old coot out of his misery. Is a son going to abet his truck-driver father's art larceny or not? Should an amateur fighter take on the archetypal tough guy? Can the young father defend his family if the diver helping to free the tangled propeller of their boat turns out to be a real threat?

With humor, edginess, an eye for human idiosyncrasy, and a nice relish for menace, Lewis Robinson shows us the lives of the wealthy and poor, the delinquent and romantic, and the socalled ordinary -- in transition, at turning points, and always with universal implications. These stories are at once classic and modern, complex and accessible, and, taken together, they bring the good news that a significant, compassionate new voice in American fiction has arrived.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:43 -0400)

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