Pearlman (Binocular Vision, 2011, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award) returns with another collection of closely observed, often devastating stories of more or less ordinary life.
Pearlman is a poet of eyes and hair; nearly every story features an observation, often in the form of an arresting image, of these features. So it is that in the opening story, in which an art historian figures, a woman appears whose “eyes in her lightly wrinkled face were the blue of a Veronese sky,” and so it is, in seeming homage to Chekhov, that in another story, a character sports “brown hair, too much of it, a blunt nose and chin, and a habit, during conversation, of fastening his gaze on one side of your neck or the other.” A vampire? No, just another character who’s not quite comfortable inside his or her own skin, as so many of Pearlman’s characters are not. Pearlman, who is in her late 70s, writes with the wisdom of accumulated experience, and many of her characters have suffered the loss of spouses, even if they themselves are not yet of age. One comparative youngster, a spry 49, has just lost her husband in war: “Each of his parts was severed from the others,” Pearlman writes arrestingly, “and his whole—his former whole—was severed from Paige.” Every word counts in that sentence, and Pearlman fills volumes with her economy of language, even if so much is devoted to such not-quite-usual matters as “corneal inlays” and people who bear odd sobriquets: “Louie the vegetable man was not composed of fruit or vegetables. He was composed of a cap, a face with little eyes and a big nose and a mouth missing some teeth, and a pile of assorted clothing from a junk shop.”
Without quite the moral gravity of Alice Munro but with all the skill: Pearlman serves up exemplary tales, lively and lovely.