Today’s Binocular Vision excerpt from “Capers”

Dorothy had dropped his arm. She was lingering at the doorway of Silk: scarves, shawls, handkerchiefs, even gloves, even belts. She floated in. “Are your worms kept in humane conditions?” she asked the saleswoman.

“Madame?”

“I’d like so much to see the scarf in the window, the one where blues shade into one another—yes, that one,” and the saleswoman cupped the item in her hands as if it were a baby and then laid it on the glass case as if it were a baby’s blanket. She from her side and Dorothy from hers marveled at the colors of the chiffon. The woman seemed sincere, but of course she could not feel the power of the blues, the way they called forth Dorothy’s seemly life: the ink of the river at night seen from under a canoe, the ocean’s mauve at sundown; the blue-green of shore reeds, the silver of spray. The brightness of Henry’s young eyes and the cloudiness of his aged ones. The printed morphos on their granddaughters’ pajamas. Her bridesmaids’ gowns had been robin’s egg blue; here was that shade repeated exactly in this fluid fabric. Here were the veins on her hands. Here was the sapphire of the Paris sky at evening. Here was the blue-purple shadow of one statue’s head on another’s paler back in that storage room at the top of the art museum. Here was the cobalt ring of the glaucoma probe. Here was the blue-gray ash that covered the nickel in her pocket. Last was the lilac of her bedroom at dawn.

“How much?” said Henry from the doorway.

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Today’s Binocular Vision excerpt from “Granski”

The ride home was shorter than the ride there—an eternal truth of the space-time continuum, Toby had once pointed out. Angelica and her grandmother went into the kitchen and sat down at the oak table. Gran turned off the lamp and lit a cigarette. Angelica handed Gran the keys, which caught the dull light from the window. The shadowy room slowly revealed its known treasures—pewter in a cupboard, the old stove with its cobalt pilot, some revolutionary’s portrait, several upended brooms flaring from an umbrella holder.

“All in all,” Gran said without preamble, “a continued liaison would be a great deal of trouble. For you, for him, for all of us. Your great-grandfather didn’t rescue his line so it could get tangled up with itself like rotten old lace, like some altar cloth from Antwerp. I suppose I mean Bruges.”

“Bruges, yes.” Angelica swallowed. “You are part of the lace now.”

“Not noticeably,” Gran said. “The Larcom influence has not made itself felt.”

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Today’s Binocular Vision excerpt from “The Story”

Lucienne would tell the story tonight, Harry thought.

She would tell the story soon. The da Costas had never heard it. She had been waiting, as she always did, for the quiet moment, the calm place, the inviting question, and the turning point in a growing intimacy.

Harry had heard the story scores of times. He had heard it in Yiddish and in French and occasionally in Spanish. Mostly, though, she told it in her lightly accented English.

Whatever language she employed, the nouns were unadorned, the syntax plain, the vocabulary undemanding: not a word that couldn’t be understood by children, though she never told the story to children, unless you counted Miriam.

He could tell the thing himself, in any of her tongues.

I was four. The Nazis had taken over. We were desperate to escape.

My father went out every morning—to stand in line at one place or another, to try to pay the right person.

That morning—he took my brother with him. My brother was twelve. They went to one office and were on their way to a second. Soldiers in helmets grabbed my father. My brother saw the truck then, and the people on it, crying. The soldiers pushed my father toward the truck. “And your son, too.” One of them took my brother by the sleeve of his coat.

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Today’s Binocular Vision excerpt from “Purim Night”

By the time Roland and Sonya arrived at the great hall—a big room with a little stage—the thrown-together orchestra was playing: strings, one trumpet, woodwinds, an accordion, a balalaika, three guitars, one drum. Candles in tin cans were burning side by side on the rim of the stage and on a ledge around the room and at the windows. Each thick candle, Sonya noticed, was made up of a clutch of little, twisted candles, the Chanukah kind. There were also several chanukkiyahs. A broad table held a mountain of hamantaschen. Another table sagged under bowls of liquid. “Let’s hope no one got hold of the methanol,” Roland said. At another camp, mostly Polish Persons, two men had gone blind from drinking the stuff.

Roland was dressed, he claimed, as Dionysius—that is, two sprigs of juniper were pinned to his scant hair, one falling onto his forehead, the other nestling within his humble nape.

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Today’s Binocular Vision excerpt from “Chance”

“Oh God of our fathers,” the cantor began. His plummy voice broke. “God,” he began again, and this time he kept talking, though his face glistened like glass. “We of Congregation Beth Shalom accept this sacred scroll, the only remnant of Your worshippers of the village of Slavkov, whose every inhabitant perished in Majdanek. Whenever we read from this Torah we will think of our vanished brothers and sisters and their dear children. God, may we be worthy of this inheritance.”

He began a Hebrew prayer, which I might have followed, but I was thinking of what I’d learned in confirmation class about the village of Slavkov. Its Jews were artisans and peddlers and money lenders. Some of them read the Holy Books all day long in the House of Study. Then I thought about things I only guessed: some of them drank too much and others coveted their neighbor’s silver and one or two of them lay with peasant women. A few little boys plotted to set their cheder on fire. On Sunday nights a group of men gathered in a storefront, putting troubles aside for a few hours, consulting the wise numeracy of a pack of cards.

The cantor ended his prayer. He handed the scroll to the rabbi. The rabbi held it vertically in his arms. He turned toward the ark. The president of the congregation opened the ark. The rabbi placed the Czech Torah beside our everyday one.

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Introducing daily Binocular Vision excerpts

In honor of Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision being named a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction, we’re offering a taste of her stories. Every weekday morning between now and November 16, the day of the ceremony, we’ll post an excerpt from her collection to the blog. Enjoy!

From “If Love Were All”

The children came, wave after wave of them. Polish children, Austrian children, Hungarian children, German children. Some came like parcels bought from the governments that withheld passports from their parents. These children wore coats, and each carried a satchel. Some came in unruly bands, having lived like squirrels in the mountains or like rats by the rivers. Some came escorted by social workers who couldn’t wait to get rid of them. Few understood English. Some knew only Yiddish. Some had infectious diseases. Some seemed feebleminded, but it turned out that they had been only temporarily enfeebled by hardship.

They slept for a night or two in a seedy hotel near Waterloo station. Sonya and Mrs. Levinger, who directed the agency, stayed in the hotel, too, intending to sleep—they were always tired, for the bombing had begun. But the women failed to sleep, for the children—not crying; they rarely cried—wandered through the halls, or hid in closets, smoking cigarettes, or went up and down the lift. The next day, or the next day but one, Sonya and Mrs. Levinger escorted them to their quarters in the countryside, and deposited them with stout farm families, these Viennese who had never seen a cow; or left them in hastily assembled orphanages staffed with elderly schoolteachers, these Berliners who had known only the tender hands of nursemaids; or stashed them in a bishop’s palace, these Polish children for whom Christians were the devil; the Viennese kids might have found the palace suitable; the Hungarians would have formed a vigorous troupe within the orphanage; the little Poles, familiar with chickens, might have become comfortable on the farms. But the billets rarely matched the children. The organization took what it could get. After the children were settled, however uneasily, Sonya and Mrs. Levinger rode the train back to London, Mrs. Levinger returning to her husband and Sonya to solitude.

Excerpted from “If Love Were All” from Binocular Vision: New & Selected StoriesCopyright © 2011 by Edith Pearlman. Used by permission of Lookout Books, an imprint of the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

 

Edith Pearlman receives 24th PEN/Malamud Award

Washington, DC––Edith Pearlman has been selected to receive the 24th annual PEN/Malamud Award. Given annually since 1988 in honor of the late Bernard Malamud, this award recognizes a body of work that demonstrates excellence in the art of short fiction. The announcement was made today by the directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, Robert Stone and Susan Richards Shreve, Co-Chairs.

“Bernard Malamud expressed the hope that ‘expert practitioners of the short story, especially those who come rarely if ever to the novel, will be recognized’ so that their work might be ‘brought emphatically to public attention.’ With this prize, we hope to bring exactly such long-deserved attention emphatically to Ms. Pearlman’s beautifully crafted and deeply moving short fiction,” said Deborah Tannen, chair of the Malamud Award Selection Committee.

Edith Pearlman 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 Best American Short StoriesThe O. Henry Prize Collection,New Stories from the South, and The Pushcart Prize Collection Best of the Small Presses.

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Booklist on Binocular Vision

There is a vast difference between reading Pearlman’s stories in a magazine or anthology and reading this collection. In settings ranging from unnamed South American countries to the Boston suburbs, from the current day to the last century (e.g., the Russian Revolution, WWII), depictions of people, places, and manners are so perfect that the stories become totally immersive. The characters, always interesting, are limned just as strongly whether female or male, young or old. The Latin American minister of health (called the Cow by her enemies) in “Vaquita” and the old man studying Japanese at age 75 in “Relic and Type” both linger in memory long after the book is closed. Stylistically, the stories are complex in their use of language, with technique incorporated seamlessly to engage and provoke readers. Many describe the lives of Jews who have integrated into the modern world and who examine the resonance of Judaism in their lives. The stories’ disparate lengths are no impediment to these qualities. The shorter “The Story” is just as involving as the longer “Binocular Vision.” Give this wonderful collection to fans of such classic short story writers as Andre Dubus and Alice Munro and novelists like Nicole Krauss. They will thank you.

*Starred Review*, Ellen Loughran, Booklist
 

The Complicated World of Adults

Karen Rigby has a lovely review of Binocular Vision on The Rumpus today.

I recently read Binocular Vision, a volume of new and collected stories by Edith Pearlman, on a cross-country flight. On my return, I read the stories again. Rare is the collection that rewards many divings; rarer still when all of the work, whether early or new, is confident in its artistry, when the hours spent reading escape notice in the way only complete absorption allows.

Be sure to read Rigby’s full review.