Bob Mustin's Reviews > Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
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's review
Mar 08, 2012

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I get where Pearlman gets the name from this collection, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
The short story as an art form is more wide open than most readers – and writers ¬– realize. Short fiction can depict characters at a depth that makes some novels look amateurish. And the form can tell the most audacious of tales, or portray culture in ways that inform as much as does history. All this in 300 words or in 20,000. When an author and an editor compile a collection such as this one, you can expect connecting threads – tenuous ones, or threads so thick and interwoven they all but approach a novel. Or, in Pearlman’s case here, the stories are a montage, the connections cultural, and stylistic.

A good many of these stories are of Jewish culture, with the Holocaust and Jewish diaspora looming like thunderclouds. Pearlman’s approach is to people her stories in impeccably taut, almost masculine prose – the sort that would make Hemingway sit back and take note.
The collection’s name? Clearly, she bores into singular moments of her characters’ lives, using nondescript things as metaphors for aspects of these lives. In doing so, Pearlman must leave hazy the grander context of her characters’ lives: place, many degrees of family nuance, history. In this sort of story, the reader must follow the author into an almost microscopic view of her characters’ lives, their moments of story. The down side for readers of this most artful type of fiction is that he/she must grasp for context, must survey the blurred corona surrounding this microscopic vision in order not to feel lost is space.

I understand this sort of approach, but it isn’t easy from the reader’s standpoint – in fact, when, in the case of this collection, the structure and approach to characterization are so similar from story to story, it’s hard to want to finish them. I kept turning pages, wanting something to change, to make me breathe refreshed at story’s end and look forward to the next, unexpected literary adventure. Sadly, I didn’t find that here.
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