“Honeydew” by Edith Pearlman is a weird story, good in its own rights, but should not have been included in the Best American Short Stories. Many other stories could deal with the same adulterous relationship with a kid in the middle without adding in weird, boring some bug references. This story originated in the science magazine, Orion. And it is quite clear that it did.
Pearlman says in the back of BASS that she was required to have the central characters, Alice Toomey, Emily Knapp, and Emily’s father, Richard Knapp, more connected to nature. Well, they certainly are, but it seems like she only did so to get it published.
Emily seems to be stuck into the story for the sole purpose of connecting the story to bugs. Emily is constantly talking about bugs. The majority of the bug references are in her part of the narration. She connects the story of Moses and the Israelites receiving food from God as “Insects came to their rescue” (165). Does anyone really care? No. I don’t. Maybe someone reading the Orion would, but this isn’t the Orion, this is the Best American Short Stories.
I found nothing in the story to suggest anything special giving it the credentials to be placed into such an amazing selection of short stories. “Axis” is a future literature masterpiece to be read in collection with Alice Munro’s other pieces. “Navigators” is a current cultural piece presenting the issues we deal with today, and the people of the future will look back to see what we dealt with. Even “The Other Place” is a fascinating story about the inner-workings of a serial killer’s mind, even if the character doesn’t kill anyone. Even the other stories I have not posted about move into issues of our world. They are all awesome stories.
However, Pearlman presents nothing groundbreaking in this story, except for one thing, which I will give credit a little later in this post. With that exception, there is nothing special about a love triangle.
She devotes a page and a half of the story to Emily talking about bugs. Bugs. It is obvious this page and a half is put in so it would be accepted by the Orion. Except for Emily being super skinny, and her weird obsession with bugs, there is nothing unique about her. And this is not that unique. What’s original about a skinny girl? The only thing is the bugs, and it still seems forced.
Alice and Richard’s relationship is really nothing unique. In parts of their narration, the bug references seep in. So keeping the bug stuff to Emily, who is obsessed with them, is out of the question, since it is everywhere. So you can’t say it is unique to her. It’s throughout the story! The one thing Pearlman had going for her is gone. It’s fine for the Orion. But outside that reading community, who really cares about bug information and bug references.
I will give credit where credit is due. Pearlman does one thing that is very interesting, but is a very questionable stance on her story. As I read it, and in attempt to like it, I thought the narrators, of both Alice, Emily, and Richard, were bugs. Emily has such a connection to bugs, why not have the narrators be bugs? To make this even possible, it takes quite a lot of substantial ideas.
To make the story enjoyable for another read, which real literature should always do, I tried to prove bugs did the narration. Just a quick summary of my theory, since Emily is so connected to bugs, I believe she has this internal connection to bugs allowing them to read her thoughts, showing the narration of her thoughts, and maintain the non-omniscient narration. The bugs are simply along for the ride, but also are inside her head.
This is where I found some hope for Pearlman’s story, but how are the bugs narrating Alice’s part of the story? She is not related to Emily, so it can’t be because of family connections, or is it? I left out one detail, and you already know if you read the story. Alice is pregnant. The father is Emily’s father, Richard. There’s a family connection. You see how this is going out on a branch. But, I keep going. You can decide if the branch has broken yet. The reason the bugs can narrate Alice’s story is because of the baby growing inside of her. The baby is of Richard’s blood, allowing them to connect to Alice’s mind.
Also, the central characters are the only ones really focused on, because they are all connected by blood in some way. So, the bugs narrate their lives. And of course, in the final pages of the story, the characters merge together, and so does the narration.
In order to find any enjoyment in this story, I had to stretch it way beyond what Pearlman probably had meant for it to go. Even with this literary approach to it, the story still does not connect to America in a unique way. It seems more science fiction or fantasy with my interpretation of the bugs inside their minds, but that still doesn’t give any noticeable connection to America. And why it would even be considered for BASS.
I would like to talk to Tom Perrotta, the editor of BASS, and ask him why this was included. Maybe he could shine some light on why this is supposed to be so good apart from the buggy nature Orion liked. Until I talk to him, I don’t really like the story. Even I questioned my theory if being anywhere near true, and it’s no fun when your theory is so forced you find no fun with it.
Just for another look at this story, since just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean you don’t have to. Here’s another opinion that’s a lot nicer than mine from the Contemporary Lit class last semester.
This doesn’t go into my bug theory, but that was a stretch. However, here is something about the point of view Pearlman uses.