A finely tuned collection by writer’s writer Pearlman combines the best of previous collections (How to Fall; etc.) with austere, polished new work. Pearlman’s characters for the most part are stiff-upper-lipped Northeasterners who take what comes and don’t grumble: in “The Noncombatant,” Richard, a 49-year-old doctor suffering gravely from cancer during the tail end of WWII, rages quietly in his small Cape Cod town as celebrations erupt and memories of the wasted lives of the dead are swept away. A fictional Godolphin, Mass., is the setting for many of the stories, such as “Rules,” in which the well-meaning staff at a soup kitchen try not to pry into the lives of the “cheats and crazies, drunks and dealers” who frequent the place. “Hanging Fire” is a perfectly crafted story about a 21-year-old college graduate, Nancy, on the cusp of embarking on life and certain only of her obligation to herself. The tale of retired gastroenterologist Cornelia Fitch in “Self-Reliance” reads like the fulfillment of Nancy’s own self-determined trajectory: after a successful career, she determines how she wants to leave this life: with dignity and a wink. This should win new converts for Pearlman.
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review