This past weekend Edith Pearlman’s new story collection Binocular Vision (Lookout Books) garnered gushing reviews in both the New York Times Book Review and The Los Angeles TimesSunday book section. I expect you will ask, “Who is Edith Pearlman ?” as did both reviewers. Additionally, Ann Patchett in her fawning(and well-deserved) introduction to the book, mulled over the circumstance that despite having been anthologized in all the well-regarded places (Best American Stories,Push Cart Press, O Henry Prize, New Stories of the South[huh?], Pearlman was not a household name. Needless to say, bemoaning the obscurity and loneliness of the short fiction writer is, shall we say, passe? I mean, Kim Kardashian is famous—which writers are going to compete with such a awesome benchmark?
Anyway, I don’t have anything useful to add to the commentary on the work itself ( I do reserve the right to return to this subject after I speak with Ms Pearlman next week) but in corresponding with Lookout editor Ben George about his writer’s star turn in major media spotlight he did remind me of a hopeful trend, worth watching:
Well, Edith said recently that the attention is welcome, but that she’s not used to it. However, with the success of Tinkers [Pulitzter Prize] and Lord of Misrule [National Book Award] within the past year, and now Edith’s appearance on the NYTBR cover, perhaps a few more previously under-the-radar writers will have to get used to some attention for their worthy work. Let’s hope so.
He could have pointed out that in Canada The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud (Gaspereau Press) won the prestigious Giller Award (the book’s Nova Scotia based publisher had printed 2000 copies and had no plans to print more)but Canadian writers are by definition doomed to obscurity. But that’s a story for another day.
Is this a new development? I think not— my sense is that the literary and cultural gatekeepers need to make themselves feel better and perhaps worthy, by occasionally recognizing that the deck is stacked(though not the least by their sloth, inattention and short fingered vulgarity.) Though I engage in it,(bad on me) reviewing books for newspapers has become a degraded enterprise reflecting the dangerous corporatization and corruption of culture and media.