Picking Up Pearls
Sherri Findlay teaches English at Laurentian University.
Irene Burstyn, also known as “Irene of Montreal,” is a renowned hat
designer who emigrated from Poland in the mid-1940s. Burstyn has turned
her attention from fashion to fiction in this engaging and insightful
collection of short stories.
The book’s 12 stories explore the lives of 17 women from various
countries around the world. The reader is whisked from the exotic
gardens of Tel Aviv, to the posh terraces of the Cфte d’Azur, to the
glittering and bustling streets of New York and Montreal. In the three
most memorable stories, “Nattie,” “Three Ladies,” and
“Lila,” Burstyn is concerned with the complexities and timelessness
of romantic love, the unspoken sisterhood that can exist between women,
and the painful realization that one’s life has been constructed
around missed opportunities. Homeless people are the subject of “Ruth
and Flora” and “Lady Penelope,” which suggest that the gaps
between social classes are illusory.
Above all else, Burstyn’s stories reveal the subjective nature of
“reality”—that is, the tendency of people to construct,
deconstruct, and reconstruct “reality” according to their individual
needs and desires. Picking Up Pearls also demonstrates that, regardless
of age, cultural background, or social status, we all have the potential
to come undone.