Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories
“Self-Reliance” is from Edith Pearlman’s collection, Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories (Lookout Books), her fourth collection and winner of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award, along with other prizes. In 2012 Pearlman received the PEN/Malamud Award. She has published more than 250 works of short fiction and short non-fiction in national magazines, literary journals, anthologies, and on-line publications. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Collection, New Stories from the South, and The Pushcart Prize Collection: Best of the Small Presses. Her first collection of stories, Vaquita, won the Drue Heinz Prize for Literature in 1996. She lives outside of Boston.
Pearlman said this about the origins of her story: Every so often I speak to high school English classes. I enjoy their eager though predictable queries: Where do you get your ideas? Wouldn’t you like to make a movie? But one morning a mischievous looking boy popped an unexpected question: “If you were allowed to write only one more story, what would it be about?” “Death,” I answered without thinking. I wasn’t even sure the voice saying that dread word was mine.
So I had been assigned a subject, not for my final story (I hoped) but for my next one. All I needed was a protagonist, a situation, a setting, a conflict, and a resolution. Damn that boy! I got to work. The austere Cornelia Fitch had been wandering around in my mind for a while; I became better acquainted with her. I stole the setting from a place I love. Aunt Shelley strutted into one of the drafts and made herself at home. Cornelia’s final transformative journey is my own hopeful invention.
I frequently wonder what’s become of that classroom imp.
The New York Times review of the collection said this: Pearlman writes about the predicaments — odd, wry, funny and painful — of being human. Her characters are sophisticated, highly literate, relatively affluent and often musical. They travel, they read, they go to museums and concerts: they take pleasure in what the world offers. They’re also principled, and moral responsibility plays an important part in their lives. Pearlman’s prose is smooth and poetic, and her world seems safe and engaging. So it’s arresting when, suddenly, almost imperceptibly, she slips emotion into the narrative, coloring it unexpectedly with deep or delicate hues.