Ann Beattie | The New Yorker Stories
Ann Beattie started publishing her short stories in the New Yorker in the 70s and since has become iconic within those pages, now Scribner’s has released Ann Beattie | The New Yorker Stories. You inevitably take note of changes in the 48 stories in this collection that Beattie’s style over 30 years has changed, but this is a sterling retrospective of a master short-storyteller.
Beattie’s turf is not the rocky terrain of disaffecting urban- turned- suburbanites that dominated The New Yorker literary salon of Cheever and Updike. In Beattie’s world Tammy Wynette is as much a national treasure as Terry Gross, warm beer is just as vital and the perfectly chilled white burgundy. And not everyone has money to organize their lives, but wealthy or not, everyone seems to be in some permanent state of displacement, relationships are crumbled or cryptic and self-realization is dodgy pursuit. Beattie’s characters may be down on their luck but they valiantly try to make sense of their busted up American Dreams.
There is a little less allegorical fancy in the later work, more wry magic realism, to split literary hairs. She doesn’t rely on her own previously successful literary devises like many fiction writers. Mostly, you see a deepening of craft. Always foremost are Beattie’s inimitable characters and situations full of survival twists and turns. These are people you want and need to understand and believe in.
The upendedness of the family in Snake Shoes (1975) has them suspended in tintype time with their fate only implied and an overall dread of several possible outcomes. In contrast to say Find and Replace (2001) 30 a widow informs her visiting daughter she is getting married again to an old friend of her husband’s. The daughter is a freelance nonfiction writer and her imagination kicks in about what a disaster this would be, but is in for her gentle awakening.
In Second Question (1991) Ned is taking care of his ex-lover Richard who is in the final throes of AIDS, they are both being looked after by the female narrator. This has such poetic veracity, that its quiet impact when it was published at the height of the second wave of AIDS deaths, is just heartbreaking.
Sometimes Beattie can tell an overreaching hairy dog story with too many threads to keep track of. Take in Women of the World (2000) which starts out as a darkly comic dinner feast of emotional suppression and displaced anger that eventually turning into a gruesome Stephen King tale with too many things to keep track of. And, it must be said, that she can go off on a tangent (with scary OCD surgical precision) that can mar the flow of her storytelling. Cynthia the heroine of Wolf Dream (1974), who has a job reading books on the radio, feels this way. ’She didn’t mind literature if she could just read it and not have to think about it.’ However oblique the situation, though, Beattie writes of truths, motives and the battered heart of the matter which might have everything to do with the American psyche. Or not.