A genius of the short story will finally have her due, says Mark Lawson
The literary establishment tends to be sceptical about the phenomenon of undiscovered greats. Even before digital self-publishing offered a corrective, it was a common view that agents, publishers, reviewers, readers and the law of averages would, between them, eventually discover the authors most deserving of an audience. The legends of bestsellers repeatedly rejected by the gate-keepers – Gone With the Wind, Dubliners, The Day of the Jackal – paradoxically consolidated the consensus that the system ultimately works.
If it does, then American author Edith Pearlman has had to wait an embarrassingly long time for vindication. At 76, she has spent four decades publishing short stories – at least 250 of them – in regional or academic periodicals. Prizes such as the O Henry and the Pushcart increasingly went her way: last year she won four trophies and was shortlisted for three for Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories.
This volume of 34 stories from across her career has popularised the view that an American writer from the decade that produced John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth and Anne Tyler had been seriously under-valued and may even be their equal. Even now, though, the book’s British launch comes from a plucky smaller publisher, Pushkin Press.
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