Every once in a while I get a terrific surprise in the mail. My mail bounces around from one house to another, I'm always forwarding and backwarding. What with holidays, and travel....today I opened an envelope postmarked November (oh dear....) and found a letter and manuscript from a writer whose work I did not know, Edith Pearlman. I get too many letters from strangers to be able to handle them all graciously, I'm afraid. But something about this one caught my eye--I think it was the lovely curlicued signature. Enclosed was the introduction, written by Ann Patchett, to a new collection of short stories. I'm a huge fan of Patchett's; I admired Bel Canto, and recommended Run to many friends. In her introduction to Pearlman's book, Patchett writes: "Binocular Vision should be the book with which Edith Pearlman casts off her secret-handshake status and takes up her rightful position as a national treasure."
That stopped me. So I read on, as Edith Pearlman had kindly included a copy of her first story, Inbound. Two sisters, little girls; two parents, professors; a nostalgic trip to a library at Harvard. The weight of parental expectation--and disappointment--is palpable, almost unbearable. One girl, still in a stroller, has Down's Syndrome. The other, Sophie, is a strange little genius, with formidable powers of self-reliance. Sophie stops at a newsstand: "Now, staring at Le Monde, pretending that the man with earmuffs had gone home, she let her eyes cross slightly, the way she wasn't supposed to, and she melted in the spaces between the paragraphs until she entered a room beyond the newsprint, a paneled room lit by candles, walled in leather volumes, the way she had wanted the fifth-biggest library to look."
"...the way she wasn't supposed to..." That phrase alone, with all the implied authority, vulnerability, rebellion, took my breath away. This compact story speaks volumes about family dynamics. I was mesmerized by the tight, quiet, edgy control of the prose, by the refracted but loving light Pearlman throws on her characters, by the heart-pounding tension, and the dazzling resolution....In short, I joyfully recommend Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories. I plan to dig into all of Pearlman's work--but I was so happy and excited to discover this writer that I wanted immediately to share it. Today we're snowed in, the air is tinseled--a perfect time to curl up with a cup of tea, a blanket, and a wonderful writer.