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