Edith Pearlman has been publishing award-winning stories since the late 1970s, but became more widely known in 2012, when her story collection Binocular Vision won both the PEN/Malamud and National Book Critics Circle awards and was a finalist for numerous others. Her new collection, Honeydew, gathers tales from the last 15 years, each one a closely observed look at the ordinary graces and sorrows of everyday life.
Most of the stories in Honeydew take place in Goldolphin, a fictional suburb of Boston peopled with professors, beauticians and shopkeepers. In “Dream Children,” an au pair finds frightening paintings of her charges hidden around the house and discovers that the images are created with the same intent that keeps her secretly brewing herbal potions for the children’s continued good health. The title story (included in The Best American Short Stories 2012) encompasses infidelity, pregnancy and an anorexic teenager who imagines herself as an insect, yet, by the story’s close, a new baby is born, weight is cautiously regained and relationships have shifted into more harmonious circumstances. At least for the time being.
Many of Pearlman’s most memorable characters are observers and listeners. In linked stories (“Puck,” “Assisted Living”), Rennie, the proprietor of the antique store Forget-Me-Not, keeps as close an eye on her customers as she does the teapots and Victorian jewelry in her shop. In one of the collection’s most vivid stories, “Wait and See,” Lyle is born with pentachromatic vision, a condition that allows him to see depths and variations of color that most humans aren’t privy to—and which proves to be both a blessing and a curse.
Like Lyle’s vision, Pearlman’s prose shimmers, and the stories are filled with beguiling details of color, taste and smell. Pearlman knows—and seems to care about—each of her characters, even the most irritating, and no matter their age, gender or race, they are drawn incisively and with empathy. Though the collection lacks the range of Binocular Vision, Honeydew is a solid group of stories by a very great writer indeed.