Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories

Like most people, I had never heard of Edith Pearlman until I came upon a New York Times book review some weeks ago. While reading Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories, I was impressed by the depth of her perceptions and the beauty of her writing. Each story is a gem. Pearlman captures the moral dilemmas we all face, the contradictions inherent in love, and the subtle and not so subtle indignities of youth and old age.

One of my favorite stories is "Aunt Telephone." Susan, the narrator, looks back on her youth in a wealthy suburb of Boston. The child of an investment banker and a psychologist, she describes the social milieu in which she grew up. "Our house and Milo's and the Plunket's all lay within a mile of each other..., as did the homes of most of the other guests--the psychiatrists and clinical psychologists and social workers who made up this crowd. They were all friends, they referred patients to one another, they distributed themselves into peer-supervision subsets--a collegial, talkative crew, their envy vigorously tamped down (p. 354)."

It is within this group of adult friends that she meets Milo, a much-published psychiatrist and neighbor. All the mothers seek his advice on child-rearing, no matter that he is a bachelor, and seemingly, asexual. "He was an aunt, my aunt, aunt to many children born into our therapeutic set, if an aunt is someone always ready to talk on the telephone to worried parents...," Susan relates.

Pearlman beautifully captures the rebelliousness of adolescence and the awkwardness of the tween years. Susan is a precocious child, preferring her own company to that of the pack. She is drawn to Milo, in part, because of his own predilection for living alone. But the story is more than a Bildungsroman. It is also about displacement. Susan reveals that the mothers no longer call Milo once their children are grown. There are no more recitals, bar mitzvahs or graduation invites. There are no more phone calls. Of the large crowd that once esteemed Milo, only Susan remains. Now an adult with children of her own, she deeply respects the way in which he accepts, with grace, his reduced circumstances and advancing years.

"Aunt Telephone" is but one of 34 stories. Each story is built around a unique set of circumstances--"the predicaments--odd, wry, funny and painful--of being human." (New York Times Book Review, January 14, 2011) Some of the stories deal with Jews displaced by the Holocaust, making a new life in other countries. "Allog" has a unique take on the immigrant experience in Israel. "Inbound" looks at a young family with two daughters, and the impact of Down's Syndrome on their lives. Other stories deal with passion in the autumn years. In"Capers," an elderly couple resorts to extreme measures to enhance their love life. All are tales of hope as the characters struggle with whatever life hands them. The gift of Binocular Vision is that we recognize our better selves in the characters Edith Pearlman has created.

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