The story is only four pages long and told in a very close third-person point of view. The narrator is evidently home-schooled. He takes notes in the morning of what his mother teaches and tells him. Then he's supposed to study in his bedroom in the afternoon so that he can recite to his father in the evening what he has learned. However, since he has a good memory he does not study but stares out of his bedroom window. He can see a bridge through the trees and watches an elderly couple, both wearing distinctive and matching hats, go to the middle of the bridge, pause, and take a photograph. One year later, he sees the same couple. This time they take off their clothes and disappear over the edge of the bridge. He tells his parents and they proceed to tell him that he's wrong. He knows he's not and there have been a couple of other instances in which he knows his parents are wrong. The story's theme, for me, is about how children, especially, but people in general, attempt to make sense of two supposed truths that contradict one another. The family appears to be religious because some of the things his mother teaches him seem to be Biblical, "...but also about the flood and locusts and frogs and other plagues that had happened before and could happen again..." The narrator invents a third explanation, a supernatural answer, to reconcile the diametrically opposed "truths" his parents insist upon. He imagines that the couple turned into birds as they went over the bridge. The boy is maturing and wants to feel better but he does not, "...he did not feel fine." The story is written in the "telling" manner and simple past tense. There's no backstory and there's no extra information about the mother or father or even the time period of the story. It feels to take place in an earlier age but I think that sense comes from the boy being home schooled and isolated.
"Bridge" was first published in Alaska Quarterly Review and then selected for inclusion in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories.
First published in 2002 in the Alaska Quarterly Review and subsequently included in her collection, Binocular Vision, "The Story" is again, in my opinion, a masterpiece. In just a few pages, Pearlman creates believable people and hones in on deep and complex characteristics of four personalities with their emotional baggage and histories.
Two couples meet for dinner once a year. Their children were married three years prior and live in Santa Fe while the parents all still live in Massachusetts. Lucienne and Harry had both been high school teachers while Justin was a psychiatrist and Judith "could have passed for a British governess." The evening progresses with some interesting facts about the town and the restaurant and its likelihood of not succeeding. We find out a few details about Miriam, Lucienne and Harry's daughter and the son of Justin and Judith.
Harry thinks that this is the evening his wife will tell her story. He knows her well and explains how she waits for "the turning point in a growing intimacy." He is correct; she tells her story. The Nazis took her father away and nearly also her brother. Then, and somehow Pearlman has made this believable, after a bit of discussion about the death of Judith's father and Lucienne's mother, Justin asks Lucienne what her father died of and where. He, the so-called compassionate psychiatrist with his "practiced empathy." This story more than any I can think of explores our obliviousness and self-centeredness as human beings. I suppose one could argue that Justin was cruel and asked the question deliberately. I think he was not really listening and didn't digest what he had been told because he was at dinner only tolerably.
The fourth story in Pearlman's collection, Binocular Vision, is called "The Noncombatant" and was first published in 1992 in the Alaska Quarterly Review.
Richard, aged forty-nine, is waiting for WWII to end so that he can begin the cobalt treatment to fight his cancer. The story follows Richard's slight improvements as the Asian part of the war ends during July and August 1945.
He and his wife, Catherine, have three unnamed daughters, ages eight, six and three. Richard's brother's children are also not named.I find this interesting and in a subtle way enhances the themes of the story, death, war, sickness, yet with hope and the opposition and balance of these. In the past, children were often not named until they reached a certain age because so many children died.
They rent a summer cottage from widowed Mrs. Hazelton who stays in the shed out back while she leases her house to them. Mrs. Hazelton makes several appearances throughout the story and she seems to represent the alone-ness we experience in dying and sickness and Richard says that as happy as he is with his life, he'd give it up if he could remain alive.
Woven into a network of meaning is the senselessness of war and the dual aspects of every complex issue. The story begins with this idea when Richard's daughter actually wants the war to continue so that she--when she grows up--can be a nurse on the battlefield. And, the story, near the end, illustrates the complexity again when Catherine, although the war is now almost over, finds the dropping of the bombs so horrible and she and Richard discuss the concept of "killing to cure" and Richard tells her "The bombs may end the war and save lives."
The story is written in third-person point-of-view and the distance feels pretty much equal throughout the story. Yet, once again, another fabulous story by Edith Pearlman. I read it three times and loved it more each time. I could continue writing about it but this blog is not meant to be exhaustive but serves as more of a record and reminder of what I've read.
Robert--Bob to his son--travels to Central America to visit Lex and Jaime. The soon to be adopted boy, Jaime, is developmentally behind. Lex, social worker, plans to adopt Jaime which will require his staying in the country for about six more months. Robert calls Lex's work womanish yet he does, sort of, attempt to speak Spanish yet curses his time wasted. Throughout the story, Robert insults, but never out loud, Lex's homosexuality and chosen profession. He even manages to insult his young granddaughter.
Robert also manages, while he's proud of his granddaughter in Beverly Hills, Maureen Mulloy, insults her by calling her name a "washerwoman's name." Also, Lex disrespects his father by insisting on calling him, first of all, by his first name but then shortening it to Bob which Robert tells us he's only just now become accustomed but he has not become accustomed to Lex's homosexuality and he apparently never will. Robert is cantankerous and judgmental. The entire story skirts just above the discension between father and son, and probably mother as well. The little she's mentioned she sounds as judgmental.
There's also the difference between the ancient Jewish customs and culture and religion and here in a Jew-less country, Lex is going to invent a birthday for Jaime as well as his age illustrating the gap between children of Israel, 3,000 years of history and a young boy being sort of re-created. Robert is an investment consultant whose two grown children have probably not taken his advice or consultation.
Ultimately, I think the story is about a father's lack of approval or respect for his children and their life choices and life styles and how children move forward and try to live as they choose suffering, some more than others, the slings and arrows from our parents. And, finally maybe the story is also about how children ignore what they need to in order to continue to love their parents--forge ahead and put the pain behind but never forget. Lex calls his parents by their first names and I didn't detect any other outwardly act of rebellion from Lex.
"Day of Awe" was originally published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Volume 13(1&2) titled as "To Reach this Season" and Pearlman has had nine other stories published in AQR.
So far the stories in this collection are just outstanding and I'm really enjoying them.