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Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories

Edith Pearlman

Lookout Books
$18.95 paperback
5½ x 8½  
392 pages
January 2011

Introduction by Ann Patchett

William Walpole Bowater III has been told his whole life that his name will “build character and open doors.” Everyone assumes that the heir apparent to the powerful eastern NC family will return home after college and take over his father’s prestigious law firm as well as assume his father’s position as political power broker. But Billy Bowater needs to create his own legacy. 

When Billy finds himself working as the legislative assistant for Wiley Hoots, the senior senator from NC, his life takes a different turn. We follow Billy as the senator’s staff gears up for a tough reelection campaign against a popular former governor. As the senator’s strategists try to assemble an effective campaign plan, a controversial art exhibit opens at the state university’s art museum. Astutely, the senator and his staff let the Christian Crusade, a powerful television ministry, create the initial taxpayer indignation over the use of public money to help sponsor this show. 

As Billy gets more involved with the backroom schemes, he begins to question what has happened to his moral compass. Billy’s relationship with Lucy Sue Tribble, the best political reporter in the state, brings his crisis of conscience to a head. Has Billy been sacrificing his soul for the limelight he craves, or is the intrigue of borrowed power just too much for him to overcome?


  • Winner, National Book Critics Circle
  • Winner, PEN/Faulkner Award
  • Finalist, National Book Award
  • Finalist, Story Prize


Binocular Vision should be the book with which Edith Pearlman casts off her secret-handshake status and takes up her rightful position as a national treasure. Put her stories beside those of John Updike and Alice Munro. That’s where they belong.” —Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto
“The small but insistent crowd that has been telling us Edith Pearlman is a master of the short story has been correct, and we’re lucky to have Binocular Vision, this generous book of new and selected stories. Pearlman’s characters—struggling to help Jewish children rescued from the Nazis during the London blitz, managing a European inn where nobody fits in, or living private life in the Boston streetcar suburb of Godolphin—are complicated, fully alive. You can’t stop reading, because you know they’ll astonish you on the very next page.” —Alice Mattison, author of Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn
“A new book by Edith Pearlman is always cause for celebration, and this is doubly so in the case of her Binocular Vision. Some of these stories are new to me, and some are old favorites, but all of them are witty and wise; all of them allow readers to live in a world that is like theirs, except brighter and word-happier. Binocular Vision is a major, glorious book from one of our most important and (until now) overlooked fiction writers.” —Brock Clarke, author of An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England
“In a world where volume is often prized over what's actually been said, and the death of the short story is treated as a perennial topic, it is a great comfort to know there are writers like Edith Pearlman, who works outside the noise and writes alongside Chekhov and Frank O’Connor and other master storytellers. Pearlman’s characters are intensely aware of the world around and within them, and her gaze into their worlds is both sympathetic and critical. With a lucid perception of unchanging and unchangeable human nature, Pearlman presents, without easy quirks or facile pretense, a fantastical world made of people like you and me. Please enter and rejoice.”
—Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants
"Edith Pearlman is an absolute master of the form: these are stories that abjure tricks and flash for brilliantly drawn characters, classic construction, and language that sings and aches all at once." —T. C. Boyle, author of Wild Child and Other Stories and The Tortilla Curtain
"A finely tuned collection by writer's writer Pearlman combines the best of previous collections (How to Fall; etc.) with austere, polished new work. Pearlman's characters for the most part are stiff-upper-lipped Northeasterners who take what comes and don't grumble: in "The Noncombatant," Richard, a 49-year-old doctor suffering gravely from cancer during the tail end of WWII, rages quietly in his small Cape Cod town as celebrations erupt and memories of the wasted lives of the dead are swept away. A fictional Godolphin, Mass., is the setting for many of the stories, such as "Rules," in which the well-meaning staff at a soup kitchen try not to pry into the lives of the "cheats and crazies, drunks and dealers" who frequent the place. "Hanging Fire" is a perfectly crafted story about a 21-year-old college graduate, Nancy, on the cusp of embarking on life and certain only of her obligation to herself. The tale of retired gastroenterologist Cornelia Fitch in "Self-Reliance" reads like the fulfillment of Nancy's own self-determined trajectory: after a successful career, she determines how she wants to leave this life: with dignity and a wink. This should win new converts for Pearlman." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"When reading these stories, one is left with the awareness that all the hallmarks of capable writing are present, including efficient dialogue, the knowledge of what to say and what to leave unsaid, expert foregrounding, intriguing characters, and formidable pacing. But one also feels that the usual review-speak can’t fully capture what makes Pearlman’s signature her own.Karen Rigby, The Rumpus, 1/10/11
"Of all the remarkable things about "Binocular Vision," this may be the most compelling, that it enacts a worldview in 34 precise and subtle movements, reminding us that if connection is elusive, there is nobility in perseverance, and that we are almost always greater than the sum of our parts." —David Ulin, Los Angeles Times, 11/16/11
"...the volume is an excellent introduction to a writer who should not need one. Maybe from now on everyone will know of Edith Pearlman." —Roxanna Robinson, New York Times Book Review, 11/16/11