Mar. 19th, 2014

Reading

Mar. 19th, 2014 05:15 pm
decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
I have been reading Binocular Vision, a volume of short stories by Edith Pearlman. The book is covered with blurbs praising Pearlman as an unsung master, an underrated but brilliant craftswoman of short fiction; there is an introduction by Ann Patchett that says basically the same thing. And it's true that I had never heard of Pearlman until my friend Krista recommended this book to me, despite the fact that she has been quietly publishing in a great many journals for years now, and winning "best-of" awards, and appearing in various anthologies.... But I'm not quite sure I'm ready to call her a master.

I have read about fifteen of the stories and they were all strong specimens of the form, all interesting, all utterly competent. I like her characterizations; I like her frequent use of historical settings; I like the way she handles her themes. Yet Pearlman's competence leaves me a little cold. What are these stories missing? What allowed me to love Tessa Hadley's short stories a month ago, but does not allow me to love these? Is it an element of risk? Of looseness? Of sprawl? Or perhaps it is simply beauty. Pearlman's prose is smooth and perfectly adequate--I couldn't tell you anything that was wrong with her sentences, yet they do not rise up off the page and take flight, and the stories don't either.
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