The short stories in Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew are zingers. When motivation to read a full novel is lacking, the compact pleasure of a well-constructed short tale delivers me from my inertia.
The setting for the first short story in Honeydew, “Tenderfoot,” is Paige’s pedicure parlor. Bobby, a college instructor who lives across the street, befriends his neighbor but secretly spies on Paige and her clients from his upstairs window. His torment revolves around a car accident and his “failure to act.” The pedicurist becomes his confessor, but the mutual resolve of the story neatly ties them together while leaving the reader with a thoughtful problem.
After reading Laura Van Den Berg’s review in the New York Times – Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew, I skipped to the two stories she had noted: “Honeydew” and “Castle 4.”
“In the title story, the headmistress of Caldicott Academy finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Her lover, the father of her child, also happens to be the (married) father of a student who is mired in the dark wilderness of anorexia. The affair tumbles ahead; the headmistress suspects she will be forced to resign once her pregnancy is revealed; the starving student studies the stomachs of ants…”
…“Castle 4” illuminates the intersecting fates of the characters — an anesthesiologist and his doomed patient among them — connected to a hospital that “was named Memorial Hospital but was soon referred to as the Castle…”
I’ve deferred the other stories for a while, when I need something short to get me going.
When our wilderness tour guide failed to show us any wildlife during our twilight tour, she reconciled by offering a view of the aurora borealis later at 1 a.m. My friend Ellie and I gamely set our alarms and ventured out of our cabin toward the golf course, the site with least ground light. We heard rustling and saw two female elk, then suddenly he was there – a bull elk with a magnificent rack. He may have seen our flashlights or he may have just been rounding up the ladies, but we heard the growling grunt and then whistling sound, as he started his gallop toward us. Luckily, we were close enough to get back inside to safety. After one last look through the storm door, we decided the colorful night sky could wait for another time, and we were grateful not to have been added to his harem – it is mating season.
On a calmer note, I looked for bookstores by day. Disappointed to find the Banff Nook and Art Den closed, I found Indigo Spirit (a version of the now defunct American Borders Express) and a salesperson who read, willing to share her favorite Canadian authors – Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), Alice Munro (Dear Life), Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), Alan Bradley (creator of the Flavia de Luce mysteries) – among my favorites too but I had not realized they were Canadian.
I left with a light humorous book to help me through the long plane ride – “No Relation” by Terry Fallis. It has a bear on the cover – the one animal I did not see while in Canada.
Another Tessa Hadley story about a train – this time a short story in The New Yorker – Under the Sign of the Moon – involved me with her usual talent for creating relationships in unusual encounters. What better place than a train for meeting strangers. In this tale, Greta is traveling to visit her daughter, and meets a strange persistent man on the train. Hadley melds the landscape around Liverpool with Greta’s life, describing the moving scene as Greta remembers her past, and wonders about her fragile future. The ending offers a chilling possibility – who was that young man, really?
Hadley offers her perspective in an interview with Deborah Treisman –This Week in Fiction – Tessa Hadley, but you might want to read the short story in the March 24th issue and decide for yourself.
A free short story from Sarah Addison Allen – Waking Kate – that I downloaded to my iPhone has done its job well. Although the story can stand on its own, the promise of how Kate will continue teases the reader to want to continue the tale in Allen’s newest book – On Lost Lake, due to be published mid-January.
As Kate is waiting for her husband to come home from working at his bicycle shop, her elderly neighbor invites her to help him mark his retirement from Atlanta’s oldest men’s clothing store. Over a cup of butter coffee, he tells his history, prompting Kate to think about her own life, and foreshadowing major changes soon to come.
Who could resist a free story from the author who charmed readers with magic and romance in Garden Spells. Have a cup of coffee and check it out – it’s free.
Short stories are on my radar – with Alice Munro winning the Nobel for her short stories and Sarah Hall’s story winning the BBC short story award for her tale of a woman turning into a fox ( a story I have yet to find anywhere in print but the BBC reading was enticing). Tom Perrotta’s Nine Inches on my Kindle was a funny, irreverent collection that had me laughing, crying, musing, and reflecting on my own experiences. With the same quirky perspective he gave to people in crisis in The Leftovers, Perrotta changes ordinary events into devastating moments.
Each of the ten short stories focuses on a dreary middle-class suburbanite facing inner turmoil for an irretrievable life mistake, and emerging changed through events that could happen anywhere to anyone. The only problem – each story has a depressing, nevertheless realistic, ending. After reading the first six, I stopped.
The title refers to middle school teachers using a piece of nine-inch tape to measure and enforce safe space between students who are slow dancing, with the focus on one teacher who reminisces on his lost chances. “Senior Season” targets a football player who suffers a head injury that keeps him from playing; “Grade My Teacher” focuses on a teacher obsessed with her online evaluations and ranking; “Kiddie Pool” has a man discovering his wife’s infidelity when he sneaks into his dead neighbor’s garage to use his pump to inflate a pool for his grandchildren; “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face” – the most enjoyable of the lot – targets the rivalry between coaches of a Little League game with a talented young girl as the pitcher.
Good stories…well written…maybe I’ll go back to read the rest later.