Storywriter Pearlman (Vaquita, 1996) probes memories of first love and loss over many lifetimes in her confident-voiced, tightly constructed second collection, winner of the Spokane Prize for Fiction.
Pearlman catches an admirably diverse array of characters in her wide net, ranging from an unnamed bourgeois family summering on the north shore of Massachusetts, whose ambitions and ages coalesce over the construction of a boxed puzzle (“The Jigsaw Table”), to a sympathetic team-up of an aged seamstress and her middle-aged customer after a devastating fire (“Fitting”). While the stories start out with unassuming premises, Pearlman’s knack for the telling detail and her detached, gently ironical voice prove a winning combination. “Fidelity,” for example, begins with ailing octogenarian Victor Cullen’s latest dispatch to the editor of his travel magazine—normal enough, except that Victor has made up the dateline and invented a whole world that doesn’t exist. By surreptitious degrees, it is revealed that Victor’s wife has had a late-life affair with Victor’s editor, Greg, and the last dispatch becomes Victor’s swan song and biting tribute to married love. Some of the tales lack this strenuous aim toward a satisfying conclusion, such as “Chance,” in which a synagogue’s ceremonial acceptance of a Torah from Czechoslovakia devolves into a young girl’s rites of maturity watching the revered participants over a night of poker. Three of the stories, including the title piece, concern a divorced young Jewish woman’s courtship with and eventual marriage to a black pediatrician and Baptist, allowing Pearlman to explore the often fraught territories of trust and possession.
A writer at the peak of her acumen whose strong, assured work will not miss its mark.