Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
The short story, as an art form, is a struggle to get right. Do you opt for snapshots? How much time does it take for the reader to care about the characters? What’s your story going to do in so few words? It takes time to perfect.

Binocular Vision being the latest collection by respected writer Edith Pearlman, you would expect a treat. She is a heavyweight in the short story world, winner of numerous awards, and Binocular Vision didn’t break the chain: it won the most recent National Book Critics Circle Award.

So, someone somewhere thinks Edith Pearlman is doing things right. After ploughing through the stories, it is decidedly difficult to agree with that someone.

This lacquered falsity plagues most of the stories...None of the stories break any ground. There are no real twists, no heart-in-the-mouth moments. The opener is about a little girl who goes missing in a museum – and the writing is so leisurely and gentle that you know she’s going to get back to her parents.

And she does. And the story finishes. A disabled sister features but nothing is really made of the challenge of having to care for family members, which is arguably where the real meat lies.

The lack of substance continues. It must be said that there is a level of confidence throughout, as Pearlman drops readers straight into the story – she thankfully doesn’t patronise in that sense. But the style can only mask the hollowness of many of the stories for so long.

A colossal problem with the entire project is how aged the writing comes across. It’s all so twee. Pearlman might write a yellow NYC cab into her scenery but her turns of phrase come flying out like moths from the Brief Encounter costume wardrobe.

“His naked pear-shaped body glowed in the moonlight,” reads one, genuinely serious passage. Cue violins.

The characterisation is dated too. Discussing with a handsome stuntman how to fall without being injured, a young woman moons, “I’ve already fallen… I’ve fallen in love. With you.”

I sure love old-fashioned eyelash-flutterers who speak like no one, ever. This lacquered falsity plagues most of the stories – so any empathy with these candy-striped characters evaporates swiftly.

Reading Binocular Vision is like trying to eat numerous chocolate fudge brownies, one after the other. There’s something acceptable in each story, but overall it’s so cloying that enjoying the taste is difficult.

Binocular Vision was published by Pushkin Press in February.