Saturday, March 10, 2007

Edith Pearlman's "How to Fall"

Edith Pearlman has published over one hundred and fifty stories in national magazines, literary journals, anthologies, and on-line publications. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, Best Short Stories from the South, and The Pushcart Prize Collection. Her first collection of stories, Vaquita, won the Drue Heinz Prize for Literature, and her second, Love Among The Greats, won the Spokane Annual Fiction Prize. Her third, How to Fall, won the Mary McCarthy Prize.

Pearlman put How to Fall to the "Page 99 Test" and reported the following:
Page 99 of my latest collection, HowTo Fall, takes place in the town of Godolphin. Godolphin, though geographically a wedge of Boston, is self-governing – by a representative Town Meeting whose members scream at each other for several evenings every October. Bow-fronted apartment buildings line Jefferson Boulevard; trolley tracks run down its middle like a zipper. In the town live ancient Yankees, prosperous Jews, envious academics; shopkeepers selling camisoles, chocolates, and scrimshaw; secretaries and music teachers; Asian-Americans, Irish-Americans, and Russian-Americans forever quoting War and Peace. A few inhabitants sleep in alleys. Godolphinites exhibit every sexual preference including the preference to be left alone.

Godolphin is my domain. I invented it – or, at least, adapted it. I populate it. I run it, I worry about it, and I write about it. A writer who uses the same setting and a familiar troupe of supporting characters can be said to be constructing a continuing saga, a human comedy. More modestly – more truthfully – she is simplifying her milieu, making it flexible, ready for any tale she wants to set there.

Godolphin is not microcosmic or generic. It is particular and peculiar. I cannot bring tanks onto Jefferson Boulevard, or make the public golf course the site of a fair where a man gets drunk enough to sell his wife. But crime can find its way to the town’s leafy streets, as can a measure of magic, and lust and death and accident and sin. For glitz, high culture, and drugged misery, I can send my characters to the city nearby.

It is a pleasure, this work – the work of trying to render a detailed, physical, immediate town which develops further in every new story. Each small neighborhood within Godolphin is home to somebody or other; each street-corner is someone’s hang-out. Hanging out with my characters, I am unlikely to slip into preachy abstractions or indulge in high-brow theories. But if I do get smug or careless, the citizens of Godolphin will no doubt run me out of town and hire themselves a new chronicler.
Visit Edith Pearlman's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue