Book Review: Honeydew

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Honeydew, by Edith Pearlman, is a collection of twenty short stories from a master of the genre. Many are set in the mythical Massachusetts town of Godolphin, thereby enabling characters who have been the protagonists in one story to merit a mention in a subsequent tale. It is a pleasing touch which helps add continuity and interest, not that this is needed. Despite the sparseness of the prose a full and complete story is told every time. The reader is drawn into each small world and cannot help but care for the fates of the cornucopia of personalities to whom they are introduced.

The author uses words and phrases expertly offering descriptions that are effective, amusing and perceptive.

‘Elderly men too – their joints were as stiff as their wives.’

‘A certain type of family […] money so old that it’s gone’

It is hard to narrow down such a fine collection to just a few favourites but I was particularly taken by the story ‘Cul-de-sac’, which offers a searingly harsh yet all too real account of the myth of neighbourliness. Another that remained in my thoughts long after it was finished was ‘Wait and See’, which introduces us to a boy born with an unusual gift who ultimately chooses to eschew it in order to fit in. How sad that society struggles to embrace difference. As an aside there was a suggestion of the perils of being able to perceive more than others, that sometimes it is better not to know what lies ahead.

Although the settings are similar for each story the characters are diverse. Young and old are represented, families, singletons, the troubled and the content. There are professionals, Jews, merchants, teenagers, people of colour and pampered housewives; yet the recurring theme is that of individuals going about their everyday lives and the challenges that they face in the ordinary. Each story is a snapshot, an anecdote or a memory that is given context, colour and depth in the telling.

As a fan of the short story form this collection was a pleasure to read. Often I will devour a good book in a day or two but I could not have done justice to this work with such an approach. I wished to stop after each story to savour and appreciate the quality of the writing. I am glad that I took my time. I was sorry when I reached the end.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, John Murray.