Wednesday, November 16, 2011

book review: Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman

The backstory: Binocular Vision: New and Collected Stories is a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award.

The basics: This collection of short stories is not connected by a common theme. The stories dart through history and feature numerous locations worldwide. Most stories do, however, feature Judaism or take place in Boston, and sometimes both.

My thoughts: Mr. Nomadreader and I are huge fans of The Next Iron Chef, the reality competition show to pick the next Iron Chef. (Stay with me here.) A recurring theme on the show is the danger of making duos and triples with the secret ingredient because it allows the judges to judge you against yourself rather than your competitors. As the only short story collection to be a finalist for the National Book Award, at times it felt Edith Pearlman is competing against herself, and it wasn't always successful for me.

Pearlman is a brilliant writer and storyteller, yet my lack of fondness for short stories came through as I read this collection. Without a strong thematic connection, I often struggle with short story collections. In this case, the biggest problem I had was that the first story was the collection's best. I kept searching for something equally as compelling, and I never found it.

Favorite passage: "Lily didn't clarify; she softened things and made them sticky. Sophie and each parent had been separate individuals before Lily came. Now all four melted together like gumdrops left on a windowsill."

The verdict: Binocular Vision is a tour de force of short stories. As a novel-lover, however, I found myself searching for a common theme to tie together these disparate stories. While short story lovers will celebrate this collection of Pearlman's work, both new and old, I found myself hoping for another story as perfect and magical as "Inbound."

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 392 pages
Publication date: January 11, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle

Buy Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories from Amazon in paperback or for the Kindle.

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  1. Since I am not a connoisseur of short stories consistently, it sounds like this one might not be for me. I did appreciate your honest critique and thoughts on it though!

  2. I'm a short story fan, so I might have a little more luck in that regard. I do find your comparison to The Next Iron Chef interesting (I'm a huge fan of the show, go Faulkner!). I was pretty taken with this idea of competing with oneself, so your mention of it here makes me even more likely to try this one. :D

  3. Oh I agree with you, I get into short stories best when they have a common theme.


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