Posted Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, at 11:50 AM
Edith Pearlman, who has been writing lovely short stories since the 1960’s, just published her latest collection, Binocular Vision . With this one, Pearlman finally got the grand stage recognition she deserves in a cover in the New York Times Book Review which began, "Why in the world had I never heard of Edith Pearlman?" I think I can answer that question. Pearlman’s stories have a kind of delicacy; they are entirely devoid of the gimmickry or obvious architecture of many short stories. Sometimes an event happens – a child gets lost on a city street, a party happens. But often the main events have already happened and left someone behind. Often the events are war or illness, and the characters are dealing with the subsequent loss or displacement. Many of her characters are in the Jewish diaspora. They are lost and edging on bitter but never raging. They can often feel like character sketches more than stories.
Most are old souls, even the very young one. Here, for example, is seven-year-old Sophie assessing how life had changed after the arrival of her baby sister Lily, who has Down’s: "Lily didn’t clarify; she softened things and made them sticky. Sophie and her each parent had been separate individuals before Lily came. Now all four melted together like gumdrops left on a windowsill." The language is simultaneously wise and childlike, the observation wistful and accepting, the emotions, as always with Pearlman, muted until suddenly they are not.