Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories
by Edith Pearlman
Awards: Winner, 2011 Pen/Malamud Award
all the silences he had ever experienced, Meg’s was his favourite.
It was not disappointed, like his mother’s; not bored, like those
of the women he had courted; not embarrassed, like that of the search
committee that had failed to award him the headmastership; not
sleepy, like the students in late-afternoon remedial classes; and not
terrifying, like his mute aunt after her stroke.
Reviewed by Sarah Hilary
the middle shelf of my bookcase I have two piles of
books, side by side. One is two feet deep and represents twelve
novels I've yet to read. The other pile is for short story
collections, and has just one book at present: this one. I'll have
read more stories, met more characters, laughed and cried and sighed
more often reading this one collection than all the novels put
together. Such is the skill of the author.
thought long and hard about how best to review this collection.
There's not a single story I didn't like, and a couple went
straight to my list of "favourite short stories of all time"
list. But I didn't want the review to be a rhapsodic fan letter, in
case it achieved the opposite effect and put people off discovering
the collection themselves. I decided the best way to review would be
the heroine Nancy is on the point of departing her restrictive
circumstances. This is a coming-of-age tale in which Pearlman
demonstrates her mastery of character and relationships. An
apparently impartial glimpse at the dynamics of Nancy's family is
made memorable by her choice of words and voice:
They were drinking gin out of
teacups. Mrs. Hasken was placid. Aunt Laurette grinned under her
globe of orange hair. Phoebe was currying her skirt with Nancy's
comb. They were not aristocracy after all – only stand-ins.
this weird and wonderful collection of individuals speak, the story
sparkles still more:
said, "We were thinking of adopting a twelve-year old boy."
talent extends beyond character and dialogue, however. Here she is
We might settle for a second TV."
"Your mother has taken up
weaving," Laurette said.
"We are otherwise unchanged."
At a certain London hotel, where
the tapestries are faded and the linen a wreck, you can feel heir to
all that is gentle. Courtyards in Delhi are chalk by day, flame and
cinnamon in the twilight. One hesitates to visit the Palais-Royal,
yet behind that cold colonnade can be found an ice-cream parlor and a
Leo, who is describing his travels in the paragraph quoted above,
Pearlman has a gift for whispering joyous secrets in our ears. The
intimacy of her writing draws us into the stories and keeps us close
to her characters.
favourite story in the collection (the one that leapt to the top of
my all-time favourite list) is Tess,
a story about extraordinary endurance, and love.
is a two-year old, born with multiple defects and kept alive by a
feeding tube, under the care of hospital staff. Tess is pretty, and
cute, and all the hospital loves her. But it is time to decide what's
best for Tess, in terms of her long-term survival. Should she be kept
alive? Or is her life too limited to justify the expense? Ethical,
moral, medical and financial judgments must be made. The decision is
made harder because of how much Tess is loved by those who care for
her. Then there is her mother, whose love is different. Deeper, but
also less complex. Tess's mother understands only a fraction of the
medical complications involved in her daughter's long-term care.
But she understands profoundly that which eludes the professionals:
what life is really like for Tess; what it means to be kept alive.
I put the blanket back on. I
watched her ear for a while. All those windings and curves. My little
girl's little ear.
ending to the story is one of the best I've read. Powerful,
shocking and redemptive.
stories are set as far apart as Spain, Czechoslovakia, London and New
England. A trio of stories follow the fortunes of Sonya and Roland,
who meet during the early days of WWII and return to Paris after the
war. Each of the three stories is self-contained and feels complete,
but it's a pleasure to rediscover the same characters elsewhere in
is too good – and too careful – a storyteller to rely solely on
her characters to carry her stories. With a couple of exceptions,
each one in the collection
has a unique idea, a plot and if not a resolution then certainly a
go as far as to say that this collection should be required reading
for all aspiring short
story writers. It's that good.
Read a story from this
collection in Ascent
the Sense Creative Award in 2010, and the Fish Criminally Short
Histories Prize in 2008. Her fiction appears in The Fish Anthology,
Smokelong Quarterly, The Best of Every Day Fiction I, II and III, and
in the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, MO: Crimes of
Practice. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2009, and
Highly Commended in the Sean O’Faolain short story competition
2010. In 2011, her story, The
received an Honourable Mention in the Tom-Gallon Trust Award. Sarah
is working on her debut novel. Her agent is Jane Gregory.