The Book Trail: From Binocular Vision to Dusk

Edith Pearlman’s fascinating short story collection, Binocular Vision, provides the starting point for today’s Book Trail.

180464621. Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
In this sumptuous offering, one of our premier storytellers provides a feast for fiction aficionados. Spanning four decades and three prize-winning collections, these 21 vintage selected stories and 13 scintillating new ones take us around the world, from Jerusalem to Central America, from tsarist Russia to London during the Blitz, from central Europe to Manhattan, and from the Maine coast to Godolphin, Massachusetts, a fictional suburb of Boston. These charged locales, and the lives of the endlessly varied characters within them, are evoked with a tenderness and incisiveness found in only our most observant seers.


2. Death is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca 6947930
Death Is Not an Option is a bold, dazzling debut collection about girls and women in a world where sexuality and self-delusion collide. In these stories, a teacher obsesses over a student who comes to class with scratch marks on his face; a Catholic girl graduating high school finds a warped kind of redemption in her school’s contrived class rituals; and a woman looking to rent a house is sucked into a strangely inappropriate correspondence with one of the landlords. These are just a few of the powerful plotlines in Suzanne Rivecca’s gorgeously wrought collection. From a college student who adopts a false hippie persona to find love, to a young memoirist who bumps up against a sexually obsessed fan, the characters in these fiercely original tales grapple with what it means to be honest with themselves and the world.


62604233. Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle
With its quick pace, modern society leaves scant time for us to pause and take a deep breath of fresh air, to watch the clouds move across the sky, or to appreciate the earth and its cycles of birth and death. Once out of the fray — far from our cubicles and the relentless rat race — and back into nature, we find time to ponder bigger questions.   Peelle has crafted eight stories that capture these moments: summers riding horses, life as a carnival worker, kidding season on a farm. Quiet and telling, her stories are filled alternately with supreme joy and with deep sorrow, desperation and longing, dreams born and broken — set in landscapes where the clock ticks more slowly. Her landscapes are the kind of places you want to run away from, or to which you wish you could return, if time hadn’t irrevocably changed them. A single thread runs through each of these stories, the unspoken quest to answer one of life’s most primal questions: Who am I?  Peelle’s writing is calm and smooth on the surface — even soothing in its descriptions of daily life on a farm, for example — but her words can hardly contain the depth of emotion that lies beneath them. So make some time and find a big tree to sit beneath, take a deep breath, and dive into this quietly impressive collection.


4. Famous Fathers and Other Stories by Pia Z. Ehrhardt 1185451
A gracefully disconcerting collection of stories by the winner of the 2005 Narrative Prize.   Wavering between fidelity and freedom, the women in this sparkling debut collection deal with emotional damage and unhealed heartbreak by plunging into unusual, often bizarre, relationships.  In Pia Z. Ehrhardt’s stories, adultery and impropriety become disquietingly mundane. Mothers expect daughters to be complicit in their love affairs, children seek shelter in families that aren’t their own, fathers court their daughters, a couple enters into a marriage that lasts thirty days a year, and a young girl takes to the road with the simple guy who bags groceries at Piggly Wiggly while her mother imagines her safely at school.


61774745. Big World by Mary Miller
The characters in Mary Miller’s debut short story collection Big World are at once autonomous and lonesome, possessing both a longing to connect with those around them and a cynicism regarding their ability to do so, whether they’re holed up in a motel room in Pigeon Forge with an air gun shooting boyfriend as in “Fast Trains” or navigating the rooms of their house with their dad after their mother’s death as in “Leak.” Mary Miller’s writing is unapologetically honest and efficient and the gut-wrenching directness of her prose is reminiscent of Mary Gaitskill and Courtney Eldridge, if Gaitskill’s and Eldridge’s stories were set in the south and reeked of spilt beer and cigarette smoke.


6. Other Kinds by Dylan Nice 16079549
The stories in Other Kinds are about a place. They are stories about the woods, houses hidden in the gaps between mountains. Behind them, the skeletons of old and powerful machines rust into the slate and leaves. Water red with iron leeches from the empty mines and pools near a stone foundation. The boy there plays in the bones because he is a child and this will be his childhood. He watches while winter comes falling slowly down over the road. Sometimes he remembers a girl, her hair and the perfume she wore. These are stories about her and where she might have gone. He waits for sleep because in the next story he will leave. The boy watches an airplane blink red past his window. From here, you can’t hear its violence.


77860877. The Collected Stories by Deborah Eisenberg
Since 1986 with the publication of her first story collection, Deborah Eisenberg has devoted herself to writing “exquisitely distilled stories” which “present an unusually distinctive portrait of contemporary American life” to quote the MacArthur Foundation. This one volume brings together Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986), Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), All Around Atlantis (1997) and her most recent collection-Twilight of the Superheroes (2006).


8. Dusk and Other Stories by James Salter 9825408
First published nearly a quarter-century ago and one of the very few short-story collections to win the PEN/Faulkner Award, this is American fiction at its most vital—each narrative a masterpiece of sustained power and seemingly effortless literary grace. Two New York attorneys newly flush with wealth embark on a dissolute tour of Italy; an ambitious young screenwriter unexpectedly discovers the true meaning of art and glory; a rider, far off in the fields, is involved in an horrific accident—night is falling, and she must face her destiny alone. These stories confirm James Salter as one of the finest writers of our time.


Have you read any of these books?  Which have particularly piqued your interest?

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Short Story Series: Part Five

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like. I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections. Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb. I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
‘A classic of alienation and horror, ‘The Birds’ was immortalised by Hitchcock in his celebrated film. The five other chilling stories in this collection echo a sense of dislocation and mock man’s sense of dominance over the natural world. The mountain paradise of ‘Monte Verita’ promises immortality, but at a terrible price; a neglected wife haunts her husband in the form of an apple tree; a professional photographer steps out from behind the camera and into his subject’s life; a date with a cinema usherette leads to a walk in the cemetery; and a jealous father finds a remedy when three’s a crowd …’

2. Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
‘Tenderly, observantly, incisively, Edith Pearlman captures life on the page like few other writers. She is a master of the short story, and this is a spectacular collection.’

3. Lying Under the Apple Tree by Alice Munro
‘Spanning her last five collections and bringing together her finest work from the past fifteen years, this new selection of Alice Munro’s stories infuses everyday lives with a wealth of nuance and insight. Beautifully observed and remarkably crafted, written with emotion and empathy, these stories are nothing short of perfection. It is a masterclass in the genre, from an author who deservedly lays claim to being one of the major fiction writers of our time.’

My review can be found here.

4. Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff
‘”Delicate Edible Birds” includes nine stories of vastly different styles and structures. “L. De Bard and Aliette” recreates the tale of Abelard and Heloise in New York during the 1918 flu epidemic; “Lucky Chow Fun” returns to Templeton, the setting of Groff’s debut novel, for a contemporary account of what happens to outsiders in a small, insular town; the title story of “Delicate Edible Birds” is a harrowing, powerfully moving drama about a group of war correspondents, a lone woman among them, who fall prey to a frightening man in the French countryside while fleeing the Nazis. With a dazzling array of voices and settings, “Delicate Edible Birds” will cement Lauren Groff’s reputation as one of the foremost talents of her generation.’

5. Under a Glass Bell by Anais Nin
‘”Under a Glass Bell” is one of Nin’s finest collections of stories. First published in 1944, it attracted the attention of Edmond Wilson, who reviewed the collection in “The New Yorker.” It was in these stories that Nin’s artistic and emotional vision took shape. This edition includes a highly informative and insightful foreword by Gunther Stuhlmann that places the collection in its historical context as well as illuminates the sequence of events and persons recorded in the diary that served as its inspiration.’

6. Selected Short Stories by Virginia Woolf
‘Virginia Woolf tested the boundaries of fiction in these short stories, developing a new language of sensation, feeling and thought, and recreating in words the ‘swarm and confusion of life’. Defying categorization, the stories range from the more traditional narrative style of “Solid Objects” through the fragile impressionism of “Kew Gardens” to the abstract exploration of consciousness in “The Mark on the Wall”.’

7. Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson
‘What is the real world? Does it exist, or is it merely a means of keeping another reality at bay? Not the End of the World is Kate Atkinson’s first collection of short stories. Playful and profound, they explore the world we think we know whilst offering a vision of another world which lurks just beneath the surface of our consciousness, a world where the myths we have banished from our lives are startlingly present and where imagination has the power to transform reality. From Charlene and Trudi, obsessively making lists while bombs explode softly in the streets outside, to gormless Eddie, maniacal cataloguer of fish, and Meredith Zane who may just have discovered the secret to eternal life, each of these stories shows that when the worlds of material existence and imagination collide, anything is possible.’

8. Selected Short Stories by Honore de Balzac
‘One of the greatest French novelists, Balzac was also an accomplished writer of shorter fiction. This volume includes twelve of his finest short stories many of which feature characters from his epic series of novels the Comedie Humaine. Compelling tales of acute social and psychological insight, they fully demonstrate the mastery of suspense and revelation that were the hallmarks of Balzac’s genius. In The Atheist’s Mass, we learn the true reason for a distinguished atheist surgeon’s attendance at religious services; La Grande Breteche describes the horrific truth behind the locked doors of a decaying country mansion, while The Red Inn relates a brutal tale of murder and betrayal. A fascinating counterpoint to the renowned novels, all the stories collected here stand by themselves as mesmerizing works by one of the finest writers of nineteenth-century France.’

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‘Honeydew’ by Edith Pearlman **

Honeydew is American author Edith Pearlman’s newest collection of short stories.  The book is comprised of twenty tales in all, and ends with the title story.

As with the work of undisputed greats such as Alice Munro in the field, Pearlman presents slices of everyday life in Honeydew – a trip to the pedicurist for a muddled divorcee in ‘Tenderfoot’, a fairytale-esque hospital where all is not what it seems in ‘Castle 4’, and the purchasing of an antique statue in ‘Puck’.  She largely focuses upon family, friendships and first meetings, but from time to time, the darker elements of human nature seep in – from drug taking and dying, to drawing disfigured children in order to ‘ward off catastrophe’ within the artist’s own family.

Whilst some of the general ideas here are interesting, Pearlman’s third person perspective seems rather too detached at times.  Whilst she follows each of her characters well, she does not build any real sympathy for them on behalf of the reader.  The majority of her protagonists do not tend to feel like three-dimensional constructs in consequence, and very few of them are memorable creations.

Unlike the diversity which can be found within Pearlman’s 2011 collection Binocular Vision, which was nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction, the stories within Honeydew are, on the whole, rather similar in their tone and style.  There is not enough to set the tales apart from one another; they are largely geograpically vague, and undefined in terms of their time period.  Several of the stories are not at all engaging, and felt quite flat.

Particularly for someone who so enjoyed Binocular Vision, Honeydew is rather disappointing.  Pearlman’s writing is more matter-of-fact than anything, and there are very few passages which could be termed beautiful.  There is an uneven feel to Honeydew; there is no real sense of flow or coherence from one story to the next.  The tales here give the impression that they were penned by an entirely different author to the sharp and perceptive stories which can be found within Binocular Vision.

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Flash Reviews (26th August 2013)

The Photographed Cat, edited by Arnold Arluke and Lauren Rolfe
Lauren Rolfe, one of the contributors to this volume, is ‘a collector of early-twentieth century animal photographs’,

My dear little cat

My dear little cat

something which I find utterly adorable. The whole idea of this book is lovely, in fact. The introduction is nicely written and set out, and I love the way in which it ties in the history of mankind and such things as the Suffrage movement, all the while making it entirely applicable to the world’s growing love of felines. I like the academic feel of the book, too. Some of the photographs were incredibly sweet, and my personal favourites involved cats being dressed up. (As you can see from the image I’ve used at the start of this review, my own cat adores being dressed up). Now for the negatives. In the Kindle version of this book, the footnotes are a little odd. It would have been far better, I feel, to have them all collected in one place at the end of book with hyperlinks leading from the corresponding text, rather than being plonked in any which way. I was reading a paragraph, and it was cut off right in the middle by a footnote, which became rather irksome when it happened repeatedly. The book felt disjointed at times in consequence. The format, in this sense, was not overly good for a Kindle book, and the photographs were tiny unless you patiently went through each one and enlarged them.

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov
I read parts of Uncle Vanya and The Seagull during a theatre module which I took whilst at University, and for some reason, I didn’t finish either play. Here, the characters interact so well together, and some of their dialogue exchanges are truly stunning. There are some incredibly interesting ideas presented in this play, particularly with regard to social issues, and Chekhov presents the human condition marvellously. The scenes blended into one another seamlessly. Chekhov’s writing is lovely, and the vignette at the end is truly beautiful.

The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett
The Family from One End Street is very sweet, and it reminded me a little of the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories. I liked the way in which every one of the characters was so diverse, and how separate chapters placed their focus upon a different one of them in turn. All of their adventures were well plotted and beautifully written. I would have adored this as a child, I’m sure. A perfectly heartwarming little book, and a lovely choice for a summer read, whether you are a child or not.

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
I have been looking forward to reading Binocular Vision for several years, and I dearly hoped that I wouldn’t be disappointed when I began it over the weekend. I liked how diverse the stories were at first, but I must admit that those which featured the same characters didn’t appeal to me all that much. I liked the freshness and individuality of those tales where everything and everyone was new. The random order of the tales worked well, and throughout I believe that the most developed characters were the children.

As with the majority of short story collectiions, some of the vignettes in Binocular Vision were far stronger than others, and the themes and settings did occasionally blend into one another a little, which was a shame. Pearlman does a marvellous job of presenting many themes, however, ranging from identity, society and conformity – or the lack thereof – to religion, illness and the fine balance between and fragility of life and death.

My favourite stories were ‘Inbound’, ‘Tess’, ‘Home Schooling’, ‘Granski’, ‘Capers’, ‘On Junius Bridge’, ‘Lineage’, ‘Vallies’ and ‘Self-Reliance’.