Short Story

What Can We Steal From Edith Pearlman’s “Honeydew”?

Title of Work and its Form: “Honeydew,” short story
Author: Edith Pearlman
Date of Work: 2011
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The story was published in the September/October 2011 issue of Orion Magazine.

Bonuses:  Here‘s a nice profile of Ms. Pearlman from Hadassah Magazine.  Ooh, and here‘s an interview Ms. Pearlman did with The Millions.  (She offers some wonderful thoughts about the importance of short fiction.)

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Point of View

Discussion:
Even though Caldicott Academy is a prestigious day school for girls, there’s a lot of complicated adult passion lurking beneath the surface.  Alice Toomey is the headmistress; she’s having an affair with Dr. Knapp, the professor of anatomy.  Dr. Knapp’s daughter, Emily, has an eating disorder and is infatuated with insects.  The Caldicott campus is also home to a ravine that is forbidden to students because of “the suicide [that] had occurred a century earlier.”  Ms. Pearlman’s story meditates on the characters’ infatuations (sex and the female body and insects) before the threads of the story are united in the climactic scene.  Dr. Knapp is sneaking back home after a special moment with Alice.  Emily has climbed down the ravine and is watching her father behave “like a boy.”  A brief epilogue sums up what happens to the characters and restates what may be the story’s primary theme: “Caldicott’s most important rules, even if they weren’t written down, were tolerance and discretion.”

Ms. Pearlman’s story makes particularly interesting use of the third person omniscient point of view.  The narrator has access to the consciousnesses of each of the characters; there are positives and negatives inherent in the choice.  Ms. Pearlman, of course, uses the third person omniscient to get all of the story’s issues and conflicts into play very quickly.  Because the narrator has full access to everyone, it can simply plant all the seeds it desires.  Once the field has been seeded, of course, the writer is able to nurture the plants that have taken root.

The point of view that Ms. Pearlman chose allowed her to make the most impressive move in the story.  The penultimate section of the story details Dr. Knapp’s “walk of shame.” The three primary characters are involved, either as spectators or as participants.  The third person omniscient acts like a hovering camera.  First, Emily sees her father and thinks about what the man’s actions mean.  She compares him, of course, to an insect.  Then the narrator magically slides to Alice’s point of view; we understand why she begins crawling toward Emily and how her attitude toward the girl has changed.  Finally, the camera slides to Richard’s perspective.  Two of the women in his life are in danger and resemble insects in different ways.  The climax of “Honeydew” means more because Ms. Pearlman offers us a great deal of access to the characters during the climax and does so at a crucial time.

What Should We Steal?

  • Plant the seeds of your conflict early and close together.   The third-person omniscient makes it easy for you to get your drama started and to establish your primary thematic imagery.
  • Imagine the narrator is a kind of camera that must follow rules dictated by the point of view.  The third person omniscient narrator can go anywhere and do anything…take advantage of this quality.

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