Sad to say, it took an obituary to alert me to the wonderful short stories of Edith Pearlman.
In this case, Pearlman’s obituary, which I recently read in The New York Times, just a few days after she died of cancer at age 86.
Before that, I’m ashamed to admit, I hadn’t heard of her. Much less read her stories.
The obituary said Pearlman was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island in 1936. And her maiden name was Grossman.
Which was a coincidence. I lived outside of Providence until I was ten.
The man who sold insurance to my father was named Grossman. One of my few memories of life in Rhode Island is going with my father to Mr. Grossman’s house. A woman (his wife or daughter, I don’t know) served me soda.
Of course, none of that was in the obit—it’s what I thought about as I read the obit.
After graduating from Radcliffe, Edith Pearlman eventually married and moved to suburban Massachusetts. For years she toiled in obscurity, writing short stories for literary magazines on a typewriter in the basement of her home.
By 2011, she had written dozens and dozens of stories, known mainly by the small clan of sophisticated short story fanatics who read literary magazines.
It all changed for Pearlman when she got a call from an editor named Ben George, who wanted to anthologize much of her work.
George convinced Ann Patchett, the novelist, to write an intro—which was glowing. The anthology, Binocular Vision, won a rave write-up on the front page of The New York Times Book Review by Roxana Robinson, another prominent novelist, that began with the following question:
“Why in the world had I never heard of Edith Pearlman?”
Binocular Vision was a bestseller. And at age 74, Edith Pearlman became an overnight literary sensation. As fiction lovers everywhere started reading her stories.
Well, except for me. Somehow I missed it all until, as I said, I read her obit in the New York Times.
As soon as I could, I bought a copy of Binocular Vision. And like Ann Patchett and Roxana Robinson, I was hooked. Almost every story’s a gem, with quirky characters and surprising twists. Pearlman’s got a taste for magical realism—at least, fantastic things happen to her characters, generally as they’re dreaming.
And so it was that . . .
I was up late reading her stories, when I found myself back in Mr. Grossman’s office with my father. A woman offered me a soda.
I said: “Oh, my God, you’re Edith Pearlman!”
And she said: “No, it’s Grossman.”
And I said: “Yes, I know. Now you’re Edith Grossman. But one day you’ll marry a guy named Pearlman and you’ll be Edith Pearlman. And you’ll be a great writer.”
And she said: “Who are you and how do you know these things?”
But before she could answer, I awoke.
Damn, Edith Pearlman’s stories are so good, they’ve taken over my dreams.