Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

9780316297226_p0_v2_s260x420The short stories in Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew are zingers.  When motivation to read a full novel is lacking, the compact pleasure of a well-constructed short tale delivers me from my inertia.

The setting for the first short story in Honeydew, “Tenderfoot,” is Paige’s pedicure parlor.  Bobby, a college instructor who lives across the street, befriends his neighbor but secretly spies on Paige and her clients from his upstairs window.  His torment revolves around a car accident and his “failure to act.”  The pedicurist becomes his confessor, but the mutual resolve of the story neatly ties them together while leaving the reader with a thoughtful problem.

After reading Laura Van Den Berg’s review in the New York Times – Edith Pearlman’s HoneydewI skipped to the two stories she had noted: “Honeydew” and “Castle 4.”

“In the title story, the headmistress of Caldicott Academy finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Her lover, the father of her child, also happens to be the (married) father of a student who is mired in the dark wilderness of anorexia. The affair tumbles ahead; the headmistress suspects she will be forced to resign once her pregnancy is revealed; the starving student studies the stomachs of ants…” 

…“Castle 4” illuminates the intersecting fates of the characters — an anesthesiologist and his doomed patient among them — connected to a hospital that “was named Memorial Hospital but was soon referred to as the Castle…”

I’ve deferred the other stories for a while, when I need something short to get me going.

Now, I want to read a novel.

 

National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists

Algonquin Round Table Members

Celebrated wit and writer, Dorothy Parker, and her Algonquin Round Table live on in the National Book Critics Circle, founded in 1974 at the famous site in New York City where Parker, with contemporaries Alexander Woollcott, Edna Ferber, Roberty Benchley, Harpo Marx and other artists met in the 1920s over lunch to share ideas and critique their contemporaries.   The current group of freelance writers and critics continues the conversation and creates an annual award list of fiction, nonfiction, biography, poetry, criticism, and authobiography.

For me – another source of good books to read.

Last year’s winners included Sarah Blakewell’s How to Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer – one of my favorite biographies (read my review – here).

This year’s fiction finalists are:

  • Open City by Teju Cole (about a Nigerian graduate student in New York City)
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (reviewed here)
  • The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst (reviewed here)
  • Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman (collection of short stories)
  • Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta (about the relationship between siblings)

War seemed to dominate the nonfiction finalists:

  • A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War 
  • To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918
  • Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War

Love Among the Greats

This collection of short stories is a slim volume – less than 150 pages – but in each of Edith Pearlman’s thirteen stories in Love Among the Greats, you’ll find a revelation – a subtle stripping away to show a character’s true feelings.  If you blink, you will miss it.

The introductory short story, titled “Jigsaw Table,” recounts summers at a run-down seaside cottage, with the family bonding over the austerity of the place, playing games and solving puzzles on an old oaken table.  When an interloper injects himself into the assembly of one of the jigsaw puzzles, the father’s final comment confirms his proprietary feelings not only for the table but also for his family.   Later, in the story titled “Toyfolk,”  an ironic friendship develops between the manager of a toy store chain and the maker of handcrafted toys – to expose a wife’s opinion toward her children, and maybe her entire married life.

The title story, “Love Among the Greats,” positioned in the middle of the book, actually begins a novella that follows a midwestern Jewish woman and her black pediatrician husband through three stories – from courtship in the library among the greats of literature, to married life, and finally to his return to Africa.

Some of the stories are humorous – the travel writer who writes about exotic sites from his bed; the Torah study group who really are getting together to play poker…but most of the stories have a serious message, and all have a literary quality in the prose.  The plots are stingy but the language beautiful.

For this woman, now staring at him with such assurance, beauty must be an old habit.

Edith Pearlman won the Spokane prize for short fiction with Love Among the Greats, but I discovered her when I read Roxanna Robinson’s New York Times review of Pearlman’s latest collection –  Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories.

Why in the world had I never heard of Edith Pearlman? And why, if you hadn’t, hadn’t you? It certainly isn’t the fault of her writing, which is intelligent, perceptive, funny and quite beautiful…

Glad I discovered her.  Read one or more of her stories when you need a short thoughtful pause.