My neighborhood book club just read Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman. We had an incredibly lively discussion last night with a variety of opinion, but a collective nod that she’s an incredible writer with a knack for dropping in on lives, carving detailed characters and leaving much unsaid.
The women in this club are as varied as the author’s stories and last night’s group was less than half our total. While I missed the others, I enjoy the intimacy of a smaller gathering, when we can really connect and talk about the book, which, often, means talking about our lives and how the book touches them.
Y said it drove her crazy that there was no resolution in these stories. A successful IT manager, she is no nonsense, but also very honest about herself. We gather, first, over food and catch up. It was fun to hear about Y’s trip with her family to Disney. She was a woman with a plan and they stuck to the daily itinerary and did everything everyone wanted, often walking onto rides sans any wait. Even her sixth and 11th-graders, boy and girl, got along. If I’m ever stranded on a desert isle, I want her there with me! I think this club is still going strong 14 years out because of her ability to gather us and keep us on task.
It was K’s birthday and, as she’s an empty nester and her husband was out of town, we celebrated with a deep-chocolate goddess cake. It really suits her earthiness and position as a junior-high counselor and wonderful, tender ear for friends. She’s listened to me rant about my youngest and offer calming, right-on advice, but only if that’s what I desired. She’s lived with a similar temperament and, in a sense, is still raising her children while also getting ready to move her parents nearby from out of town. Some would say she’s a saint … with a wicked sense of humor.
My mother, who joined the club when she moved to town a few years ago, was motivated to write her own short story, which I am dying to read. She’d forgotten it, but remembered cheese and crackers and her constant traveling companion, Puff, the magic oxygen tank. She reminded us of the elements of a short story, of which we realized Pearlman was master. Her favorite was shared. The story of the beautiful toddler trapped in a diseased body and mind, caged and worshipped, and finally set free by her mother tapped us all down deep. We’re all mothers and know the burden of doing the sometimes unthinkable because it is the loving thing to do. As my mom and I talked about the book earlier in the week, she seemed regretful that she had not nursed me and my twin. One of the stories centered on a stubborn health minister who bucked the government trend of manufactured milk, chucking her career. I know on some level I missed that closeness with my mother, but in that moment I laid that down, trading if for gratitude that she thumped convention to ensure my sister and I developed as individuals, not a set. I’d like to uncover what other unthinkable things she did for me.
C sent me a thank you this morning, complementing our house and how, as she was packing up her appetizer plate and basket, she noticed the painted fireplace surrounding the kitchen vent. I’ve been in my house too long and only seem to see the work and mess. It was wonderful to be reminded that it can be a welcoming place as well. My family generously pitched in (I can’t say I was so gracious when I had to remind them for the third time) to get it in shape. For a moment, I settled back into when my girls were pre-schoolers and they would toddle down on cold mornings and sit by what they called the warm spot. In my grandmother’s house, it was a forceful grate that transformed our soft, flannel nighties into blooming mushrooms. The warm spot enticed me into giving it a Victorian mantel.
C had also picked this book, so I was especially grateful for her. She has a knack for selecting things I wouldn’t ordinarily read, but that I adore. Carefully culled choices from a thoughtful reader and person. Though they moved a few years ago, she’s still very much a part of the neighborhood. She and her husband drove the church van, transporting families in subsidized housing, for the Artsy Fartsy open house in June.
Of course, we missed our regulars: they each bring unique gifts, voices and presences to the group. It’s really more of a nurture group in my mind than a book club. Y even organized a letter-writing retreat one summer for all of us at Grailville. It was powerful.
My heart, now, is on M, struggling with a reconstructed ankle and unable to join us last evening. She and my mom have so much in common and the connection has been good for both of them. She’s surrounded by loving, attentive family, but I am certain the neighborhood women will be needed when that procession ends. That’s what this group does: bring food when we’re delivering babies or ill, calling to check in, rallying around local social causes, inviting us to graduations and weddings and just being present and available.
Certainly nothing like the flat, lonely misfits Pearlman so beautifully animates. Her work seems cloaked in grey tones. My book club is very much a riot of rainbow colors.
• How does what I read touch my life?
• How has a group enriched my life?
• Who, exactly, are my neighbors?
• How have they colored my life?
• How do/can I share my gifts with them?
broken and real
to read on
in a book-
only to remind
me of the
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