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Saturday, July 20, 2024


June 30, 2002 – "Backless" is not to be confused with "spineless."
The central figures in "Backless," a book of short stories by former V.I. resident Robin Sterns, are introspective, opinionated, very certain of their uncertainties, and action-takers.
The stories take place in several venues: St. Croix, Utah and Florida. This reviewer cannot evaluate the stateside locales, but Sterns' Caribbean stories are distinctly and emphatically St. Croix. The sense of place is transmitted further by the author's casual mention of the West End, a Vitelco truck, the Sunny Isle shopping mall, Blue Mountain and Mon Bijou.
The Caribbean locale is further enhanced by the author's way of naming un-named characters: the redhead who threw a fit at Inspection Lane is dubbed "Flamboyant"; a rival for the narrator's affections is referred to as Boyfriend's "Tropical Depression."
Sterns' conversations seem to be very real, slow paced with repartee, fast paced with disjointed thoughts spewing out. Conversations, even those at bars and parties, seem to cohere to the character being limned.
The longest story is absolutely and distinctly St. Croix. "Big Wind Does Blow" devotes most of its almost 50 pages to a young woman's grueling, weeks-long encounter with car inspection and driver's licensing at Trailer A, Public Safety Inspection Lane. Her conversations, with officials and line fellows, are right on the mark. Readers may speculate on the relation of the story's title to 40 pages of Inspection Lane woes and seven pages of enduring and recovering from Hurricane Marilyn.
Despite the general feeling that her central figures take definitive action, even if it's just a single woman leaving a party before she embarrasses herself, Sterns' judgment rings true in her narrator's last comment in the "Big Wind" story: "I am fully compliant in the Virgin Islands."
Some of the stories could be set anywhere, except for the author's casual mentions of Paradise City, Utah fields, the coin laundry at K-Mart, Wellsville Mountains. The title story could be set at any party where the weather is tropical enough for wearing a backless dress, the central figure's thoughts and actions very personal.
One of the most touching and universal stories is "The Good Daughter" taking her difficult, elderly father along to the Laundromat. Sterns obviously has a wide variety of experience to draw on in defining her characters and putting words in their mouths.
During the years she resided on St. Croix, Sterns worked at the V.I. Daily News and as an editor for the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of the Virgin Islands. She also was an adjunct English teacher on UVI's St. Croix campus and edited one issue of "The Caribbean Writer" when editor Erika Waters was on leave. She is still involved in editing UVI publications, including "Caribbean Perspectives" magazine, AES publications and newsletters, and is doing the coming year's UVI course catalog.
Sterns is now assistant professor of English at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., where she directs the honors program. One might anticipate her bar and party conversations in future stories may develop a knowing academic flavor.

Readings, signings
Sterns is on St. Thomas this week for readings, discussions and book signings of "Backless." On Tuesday, she will be on the "Leona" talk show on WVWI Radio at 2 p.m. and at Tillett Gardens at 7 p.m.
On St. Thomas, the book will be available at the Tillett Gardens event and at Dockside Bookshop. On St. Croix, it's being sold at Undercover Books in Gallows Bay, the Whim Museum Shop, the Bookie and Many Hands.
The paperback book, published by Nez-Percé Press of San Francisco, is a comfortable size, and the text and format are unusually spacious. The obvious attention to layout detail might be anticipated from someone with Sterns' background in publications.

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