Summary and book reviews of Honeydew by Edith Pearlman



by Edith Pearlman

Honeydew by Edith Pearlman X
Honeydew by Edith Pearlman
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 288 pages
    Sep 2015, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

A new story collection from the author of Binocular Vision, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the National Book Award.

Over the past several decades, Edith Pearlman has staked her claim as one of the all-time great practitioners of the short story. Her incomparable vision, consummate skill, and bighearted spirit have earned her consistent comparisons to Anton Chekhov, John Updike, Alice Munro, Grace Paley, and Frank O'Connor. Her latest work, gathered in this stunning collection of twenty new stories, is an occasion for celebration.

Pearlman writes with warmth about the predicaments of being human. The title story involves an affair, an illegitimate pregnancy, anorexia, and adolescent drug use, but the true excitement comes from the evocation of the interior lives of young Emily Knapp, who wishes she were a bug, and her inner circle. "The Golden Swan" transports the reader to a cruise ship with lavish buffets-and a surprise stowaway-while the lead story, "Tenderfoot," follows a widowed pedicurist searching for love with a new customer anguishing over his own buried trauma. Whether the characters we encounter are a special child with pentachromatic vision, a group of displaced Somali women adjusting to life in suburban Boston, or a staid professor of Latin unsettled by a random invitation to lecture on the mystery of life and death, Pearlman knows each of them intimately and reveals them to us with unsurpassed generosity.

In prose as knowing as it is poetic, Pearlman shines a light on small, devastatingly precise moments to reflect the beauty and grace found in everyday life. Both for its artistry and for the recognizable lives of the characters it renders so exquisitely and compassionately, Honeydew is a collection that will pull readers back time and again. These stories are a crowning achievement for a brilliant career and demonstrate once more that Pearlman is a master of the form whose vision is unfailingly wise and forgiving.


Tenderfoot was a pedicure parlor on Main Street near Channing. Two reclining chairs?—?usually only one was in use?—?faced the street through a large plate-glass window. And so customers, alone with Paige, got a kind of public privacy?—?anybody could see them, no one but Paige could hear them. Paige was an expert listener?—?rarely commenting on what she heard, never repeating it.

She was a widow, forty-nine and childless. She lived behind and above her store. She played poker with five other women every Saturday night. They called one another by their last names and smoked cigars. She had lost her husband, a talented mechanic, to the war. Carl was in favor of the war, more or less; but he'd joined up mainly to get further mechanical training at the military's expense. She'd objected to his risking their joint future, their happiness . . . but she'd let the argument drop. The Marines took him despite his age. And then, three days ...

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BookBrowse Review


Unlike many contemporary short works, Pearlman's stories usually have satisfying narrative arcs that will appeal to many readers, even those unaccustomed to frequently reading short stories. And they are truly "short" stories—most clocking in at twenty pages or less, making them ideal brief escapes into vividly realized, beautifully written worlds and lives. Throughout, Pearlman exhibits an elegance with language that's essential for mastering the genre...continued

Full Review (698 words).

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(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal
The 20 stories [in Honeydew] are vinegary, rueful, droll, humane and endlessly inquisitive. Though intricately constructed, they are slight in drama and emphasis, set down like a light footprint that nevertheless fixes itself in one's memory as though pressed in wet cement.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Finely wrought [stories]... these characters are quirky and vulnerable, and it is clear that Pearlman has great affection for them. Readers will, too.

The New York Times Book Review
Honeydew should cement [Pearlman's] reputation as one of the most essential short story visionaries of our time.

The Boston Globe
Pearlman is our greatest living American short story writer, and Honeydew is her best collection yet

The Washington Post
Like Alice Munro, Pearlman deftly encapsulates whole lifetimes in compact stories by focusing on pivotal moments that reverberate over decades.

The Chicago Tribune
This newest book contains 20 stories in fewer than 300 pages, and even the shortest among them convey a depth and a texture well out of proportion to what their word counts might suggest them capable of.

The Times (UK)
Edith Pearlman is the best short story writer in the world. A lot of people know that. More will.

The Sunday Times (UK)
Prepare to be dazzled. Edith Pearlman's latest, elating work confirms her place as one of the great modern short-story writers... Vivacity and zest enliven every page. Body language is wittily caught... Personalities are keenly explored. Honeydew elatingly continues the celebration of life's diversity to which Binocular Vision so excitingly introduced us.

Claire Messud for Financial Times
She is wise, yes, but also unfailingly generous, even joyous... it certainly makes her fiction a fortifying pleasure to read.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Pearlman fills volumes with her economy of language... [and] serves up exemplary tales, lively and lovely.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Following Binocular Vision, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, Pearlman offers this affecting collection that periscopes into small lives, expanding them with stunning subtlety.

Starred Review. Pearlman not only writes with bewitching clarity, she also fathoms much about our inner lives and relationships that is unexpectedly wondrous.

Author Blurb Tom Perrotta, New York Times bestselling author of Election, Little Children, and The Leftovers
Honeydew is a stellar collection, a wide-ranging examination of Pearlman's favorite subjects - the mysteries of love and friendship, the indignities and compensations of growing older, and the knotty complexities of the human heart.

Author Blurb Lauren Groff, New York Times bestselling author of Arcadia and The Monsters of Templeton
To read an Edith Pearlman story is to sense a mysterious voice singing just under the surface of the prose; it is to be so beguiled by elegance and wit that the inexorable surging power of the story astonishes when it finally hits the reader.

Reader Reviews

Diane S

These stories are told in a vey economical use of prose and yet vividly descriptive. Many take place in Godolphin, Mass. And four stories contain Ronnie. Two, prominently feature her and her store forget-me knot, and were among my favorites. One ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Brookline: Boston's Streetcar Suburb

Many of the stories in Honeydew are set in the town of Godolphin, an imaginary suburb of Boston that bears a great deal of resemblance to Pearlman's home town of Brookline.

Boston's Green Line Brookline, first settled in 1638 and incorporated as an independent town in 1705, is what's commonly known as a "streetcar suburb," a residential community whose historical development is strongly linked to the rise of public transit. In this case, the streetcars still persist as trolleys on Boston's Green Line, one branch of which runs down a boulevard at the center of Beacon Street, a broad avenue at the heart of Brookline.

Once known as the "richest town in the world," Brookline became known in the nineteenth and early twentieth century as the home of ...

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