Friday, April 22, 2011

"Binocular Vision"

Wow, wow, wow! “Wow” is perhaps not a literary term, but it describes the way I feel about Edith Pearlman’s “Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories” (Lookout Books, 2011). Why haven't I heard of this amazing writer before? I just stumbled across a review of her work, and the reviewer pointed out that Pearlman is a writer who is not as well known as she should be. In her introduction to this volume, Ann Patchett (a wonderful writer herself) instructs us to “put [Pearlman’s] stories beside those of John Updike and Alice Munro. That’s where they belong.” It sounds like hyperbole, but she is not far off, in my opinion. Patchett goes on to tell us that she once had occasion to read one of Pearlman’s stories, “Self-Reliance,” aloud 20 times. She said that the more she read it, “the more it bloomed .... when I had read it 20 times, I could see that it was flawless. Every word in every sentence was indispensable, every observation subtle and complex.... Every time I thought I had mastered all of the nuances, the story offered up another part of itself to me.” Patchett goes on to write of the “richness” and “depth of spirit” in Pearlman’s stories. I echo everything Patchett says; I savored every story, and found, as Patchett did, that each story was rich and complex. The stories range in locale from Russia to London to Central Europe to Central America, with many taking place in the fictional Godolphin, Massachusetts. They also range through 20th century history. The characters are diverse, and often whole lives are lived in one story. A few of the stories share overlapping characters. One of the pleasures of these stories is that many of the characters are older, yet still vital, and carry their whole rich histories within them. As I get older myself, I value this inclusion and these perspectives. The stories are also bursting with families, lovers, friends, and colleagues. These small masterpieces are compelling, engaging, and layered. They are beautifully constructed and written. Highly recommended!

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