Saturday, September 24, 2011


Edith Pearlman is a classic example of how short story writers, even very fine short story writers, can get ignored by reviewers and the reading public. How can this happen? Well, it can happen when, like Pearlman, the writer writes short stories and never novels. Only a few writers who make this decision manage to get widely read: Raymond Carver, because, with the help of a savvy editor, he created a stylized, attenuated world of blue-collar misfits that caught the attention of reviewers. Alice Munro, because she is such an intelligent observer of the inner lives of women and creates a complex, densely populated world that reviewers can justify as “novelistic.

It can happen when a writer is ignored by the relatively wide circulation magazines such as The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Atlantic, and is published instead only by low circulation journals such as Alaska Quarterly Review, Idaho Review, and Ontario Review. And it can happen when those stories are collected in books that only university and small presses seem interested in. When Pearlman’s second book, Love Among the Greats came out in 2003, Mary Ann Gwinn, reviewer for McClatchy—Tribune News Service, wrote: “I’m not a big short-story fan. They seem to end before they ever really get rolling—when it comes to the so-called ‘fictional dream,’ I like mine long, leisurely, and novelistic. It’s a pleasure to announce a short-story collection that has trounced that bias.” Good on ya!, Miss Gwinn. Would that more reviewers were similarly converted! If there is any “sacred text” out there to make more people appreciate the short story, it is Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision.

So let me tempt you to buy a copy of that book with some of my favorite lines from Pearlman’s stories. While you’re at it, buy another copy for someone who loves good writing. Two copies from Amazon will cost you $25.78 and thus give you free shipping.


Sophie and each parent had been separate individuals before Lilly came. Now all four melted together like gumdrops left on a windowsill.

Sophie had imagined that, in such an event, she would turn cool, a lizard under a leaf.

She felt her cheek tingle, as if it had been licked by the sad, dry tongue of a cat.

“The Noncombatant”

She lifted her wet head; she biked urgently toward the storm, as if it, at least, loved her.


But my forehead felt as if a flame had been brought very near, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that my hair was on fire.


The counsel locks his car and moves swiftly through the garage. Within its gloom his fair hair looks like dust.”

hen I unscrewed the end of the heart tube from the aqua clothespin and I slipped it under the blanket so the blood would pool quiet and invisible like a monthly until there would be no more left.


“Oh, Greg, sometimes I have to escape from his intensity, I get scorched, you are so cool, darling, like a winding-sheet.”

“If Love Were All”

She suspected that, like many fat men, he danced well.

The young woman sat at a piano, head bowed as if awaiting execution.

“Purim Night”

He liked to hang around the office because Roland, without making a big thing of it, let fall so many bits of knowledge, farted them out like a horse.


After a few minutes Signet set the youngster down and returned to her work, her scar glistening like the trail of a tear.

They left. Donna walked into the kitchen. It would be a pleasure to stew tomatoes until they burst through their skins.

“Home Schooling”

He taught us to beat egg whites until they were as stiff as bandage gauze.

Unravished Bride

They were bound to the code of their youth—self denial and honor and fidelity—an inconvenient code that would keep them, she realized with a pang, forever chaste, and forever in love.


elliot said...

So well put, Charles. I will add on a personal note that Edith once visited a writer's group I was in (now defunct, the group, not me) and she was a shrewd critic and a very nice person.

Ann Graham said...

Thanks so much for the Edith Pearlman review. I just went to my local Recycled Bookstore; however, they did not have any of the early Pearlman. So I'll be ordering Binocular Vision from Amazon.

But I discovered Benedict Kiely and Nanci Kincaid.

Anonymous said...

I have had the misfortune of reading several of the stories in Binocular Vision and I am amazed that many people use words like "sumptuous" and "insightful" to describe her work.

With few exceptions, Ms. Pearlman's stories suggest a world in which men are either weak, absent, or virtually non-existent. Perhaps this is a valid description of Ms. Pearlman's personal experiences. Certainly, it is the point of view that she deliberately imposes on the fictional worlds she creates. In many of the stories, an elderly man is close to death. In some as well, his world is falling apart. In another, his friend is dying while his wife fantasizes that he is a woman and she has a crush on the daughter of the dying man. The daughter's boyfriend meanwhile has no name and no character--a virtual nonentity. One wonders whether Ms. Pearlman's world admits of the possibility of a vibrant male.

Ms. Pearlman's point of view is one of perpetual sadness and resignation. There is little joy and the opportunity to triumph over the travails of the world are scarcely admitted. Complete bummer.

Charles E. May said...

Sorry you feel this way about the Pearlman stories, "Anonymous." I think she is one of the finest writers currently publishing short stories.