Saturday, May 21, 2011

Short Story Month Giveaway: Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman

This week, I'm celebrating short stories with giveaways and thoughts about short fiction by participating authors.  Join me each day as I pay tribute to National Short Story Month, a movement which has snowballed since the first efforts by Larry Dark and Dan Wickett to give overdue national attention to short stories.  For details on how to enter today's contest, scroll to the bottom of this post.  For more bloggers participating in Short Story Month giveaways, be sure to visit this page at Fiction Writers Review.

Today's book is Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman, the acclaimed collection published earlier this year by Lookout Books, a new imprint at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.  Binocular Vision is the first title to roll off Lookout's presses and it's an important occasion--not just because it's the premiere from what looks like a promising publisher, but because it's a book by an author who has been criminally overlooked by the general reading population despite a track record of three previous award-winning short story collections.  This is Edith Pearlman's day and she's rightfully basking in the glow from Lookout's lightbulb logo.  It's true, Binocular Vision shines a light on the author's career with these "new and selected stories."  The first paragraph of Ann Patchett's introduction further illuminates:
To that great list of human mysteries which includes the construction of the pyramids and the persistent use of Styrofoam as a packing material let me add this one: why isn't Edith Pearlman famous? Of course by not having the level of recognition her work so clearly deserves, she gives those of us who love her the smug satisfaction of being in the know. Say the words Edith Pearlman to certain enlightened readers and you are instantly acknowledged as an insider, a person who understands and appreciates that which is beautiful. Still, I think that Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories should be the book with which Edith Pearlman casts off her secret handshake status and takes up her rightful position as a national treasure. Put her stories beside those of John Updike and Alice Munro. That's where they belong.
Based on Patchett's effusive praise of Pearlman's "Self-Reliance," I turned to the back of Binocular Vision and read that story before going to any of the others.  As Patchett points out, it's a story that deepens with each re-read.  There are layers upon layers and worlds within worlds and words behind words here.  It is, in short, literary delight multiplied to the nth degree.  Pearlman begins by grounding us in the reality of an elderly cancer patient who buys a cabin beside a spring-fed pond in New Hampshire to live out her days, to the chagrin of her daughter.  Here's one of my favorite passages:
"I worry about you in the middle of nowhere," her daughter, Julie, said.  But the glinting stones of the house, its whitewashed interior, summer's greenness and winter's pale blueness seen through its deep windows, the mysterious endless brown of the peaked space above her bed...and pond and trees and loons and chipmunks...not nowhere.  Somewhere.  Herewhere.
"Self-Reliance" begins conventionally enough, but soon veers into unexpected, surreal territory.  In this way, it reminded me of Tobias Wolff's "Bullet in the Brain."  Those who have read that story about a bank robbery know what I'm talking about when I say one sentence can send the story in a completely new direction--like a spinning top bouncing off a wall.  I won't say more for fear of spoiling the undiscovered joys of an unread story, but I will say this: Pearlman's fiction will stand the test of time.  Read her.  Now.

About the Author:  Edith Pearlman has published more than 250 works of short fiction and short non-fiction in national magazines, literary journals, anthologies, and on-line publications. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Collection, New Stories from the South, and The Pushcart Prize Collection--Best of the Small Presses.  Her first collection of stories, Vaquita, won the Drue Heinz Prize for Literature and was published by the University of Pittsburgh University Press in 1996.  Her second, Love Among The Greats (Eastern Washington University Press, 2002) won the Spokane Annual Fiction Prize.  Her third collection, How to Fall, was published by Sarabande Press in 2005 and won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction.  Visit her website at

Edith Pearlman's Five Favorite Books
(Not all short stories, but I think reading any of them will be instructive and enjoyable for the short story writer)

A Better Angel by Chris Adrian
Chris Adrian burst into the world of fiction in the 1990s with stories published in small literary magazines and also in that big one The New Yorker.  The narrators of these brilliant short works share a yearning to reverse death, and an acquaintance with angels who walk the earth, often broken-winged and outlandishly dressed.  Every story presents some or many of the following: a brother who, though dead, is audible and occasionally visible; an impaired physician; a killing (sometimes murder); the comforts of substance use; illnesses, often gruesome; congenital defects; and injuries, sometimes received on the battlefield.  Had enough?  I hope not.  For this is a writer of prodigious talent who holds your heart in his hands.  (They are youthful, gloved hands: Adrian is a pediatrician of 40, and a student of divinity as well.)  Despite or because of his obsessively repeated subject matter, he is a writer of enormous charm.  And despite or because of his unlikely world-view, he is irresistible.  He sails into the inexplicable, seeking meaning; and the reader, gripped by curiosity and admiration, scrambles on-board.  He has written three novels as well as this collection; the latest is The Great Night, published this month.

Little Black Book of Stories by A. S. Byatt
A. S. Byatt has the best eye in the business--she renders the surface of things and what’s underneath with eloquent economy.  In “The Thing in the Forest,” a story in this collection, the general reader will marvel at descriptions of nature, of remembered happenings, of present emotions.  The apprentice writer--the experienced writer, too--will marvel as well, and wonder how it’s done.  How it’s done is shown in another story, “Raw Material,” which should be required reading in every writing workshop.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
My favorite book by my favorite author.  High life in all its ridiculous hypocrisy, the Thames in all its foulness, fidelity, vengeance, a pair of scoundrels with redeeming virtues, plenty of drowned bodies and one gruesome murder; language rich and funny, glorious dialogue, passion, mania.

Deerskin by Robin McKinley
Books written for children and young adults give us much of what books written for adults try to: conflict, betrayal, faithfulness, love, adventure--and they do it without the baggage of realism; they avoid contemporary settings in favor of timeless ones; they dispense with that overvalued element motivation--as the poet Amy Clampitt says: “who knows what makes any of us do what we do?”  Deerskin is a powerful example of the genre.  There’s an unforgettable heroine and a superb dog.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Just read it.

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If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of Binocular Vision, send an email to with "Edith Pearlman" in the subject line.  Please include your mailing address in the body of the email.  This contest is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada (sorry, we can't ship to addresses with P.O. boxes).  One entry per person per book (yes, you can enter the drawings for each book during Short Story Week, but each entry must be sent separately).  The contest remains open until May 31, at which time I'll draw the winners of each day's giveaway.

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