Obituary Note: Edith Pearlman

Edith Pearlman, whose acclaimed 2011 collection of short stories, Binocular Vision, "lifted her out of relative publishing obscurity to make her an instant if belated literary star at the age of 74," died January 1, the New York Times reported. She was 86. Pearlman had "refined her craft over four decades, publishing more than 200 short stories--and winning prizes and positive reviews--but mostly in the hothouse world of small literary magazines and presses that proudly eschew market-driven mainstream publishing."

"Why in the world had I never heard of Edith Pearlman?" novelist Roxana Robinson asked in her rave review of Binocular Vision on the front page of the New York Times Book Review, adding: "Pearlman's prose is smooth and poetic, and her world seems safe and engaging. So it's arresting when, suddenly, almost imperceptibly, she slips emotion into the narrative, coloring it unexpectedly with deep or delicate hues."

Ben George, an editor with Tin House magazine, was starting a new press, Lookout Books, in 2011 with Emily Louise Smith, an independent publisher at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Impressed with Pearlman's earlier books of short stories--Vaquita (1996), Love Among the Greats (2002) and How to Fall (2005)--he asked her if he could publish a collection of her selected and new stories to inaugurate Lookout Books. Pearlman said that he was her ideal reader and worked closely with him to produce the book, the Times noted.

In her introduction to Binocular Vision, Ann Patchett, who had selected one of Pearlman's pieces for the 2006 Best American Short Stories anthology, compared the writer with short story masters John Updike, Anton Chekhov and Alice Munro. 

George told the Times he considered the way the collection became a literary event to be almost magical. Pearlman was nominated in 2011 for a National Book Award, with other prizes following, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN Malamud Award for excellence in the short story. Publishing Pearlman brought George considerable attention as well, the Times noted. He went on to become a senior editor at Little, Brown. Without her, he said, "I would never have come to New York."

Pearlman wrote another collection, Honeydew, also edited by George. It was published in 2014, when she was 78, by Little, Brown, her first book with a major publisher, and it earned her a second National Book Award nomination. It would also be her final book.

"Edith has always known that death is the essential human story," Patchett told the New York Times in a profile of Pearlman in 2015. "It's not about falling in love. It's not about travel and expectation. The difference between her and the rest of us is that she has always had this electricity, this capacity to draw beauty from loss."

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