When Ann Beattie began publishing short stories in The New Yorker in the mid-seventies, she emerged with a voice so original, and so uncannily precise and prescient in its assessment of her characters’ drift and narcissism, that she was instantly celebrated as a voice of her generation. Her name became an adjective: Beattiesque. Subtle, wry, and unnerving, she is a master observer of the unraveling of the American family, and also of the myriad small occurrences and affinities that unite us. Her characters, over nearly four decades, have moved from lives of fickle desire to the burdens and inhibitions of adulthood and on to failed aspirations, sloppy divorces, and sometimes enlightenment, even grace.
Each Beattie story, says Margaret Atwood, is "like a fresh bulletin from the front: we snatch it up, eager to know what’s happening out there on the edge of that shifting and dubious no-man’s-land known as interpersonal relations." With an unparalleled gift for dialogue and laser wit, she delivers flash reports on the cultural landscape of her time. Ann Beattie: The New Yorker Storiesis the perfect initiation for readers new to this iconic American writer and a glorious return for those who have known and loved her work for decades.read more
To enjoy an Ann Beattie story, you must first absorb a sort of family tree which describes the relationships among members of a non-traditional family. For example, Man A's Mother (B), is dying. A is recently divorced from C, and has taken up with D (a young college student). E is C's son from a prior marriage, who still lives with A because he gets along better with A than with C. F is D's dog, Newton, who has very specific habits and quirks of his own.
Once these relationships are set in one's head, the fun can begin. There is often just as much care taken in a Beattie short story to set up a web of relationships as there is in most novels. The earlier stories, from the seventies, are often funny, almost hippie-dippie screwball comedies. Or in the alternative, set-pieces where a character must come to a complex realization of what career or relationship course he or she will pursue next. In the aftermath of the sixties, the characters in the seventies stories aren't anchored to established American notions of family, and uncouple and recouple like train cars into unusual and complex family units. Ann Beattie is the chronicler of the non-nuclear family.
The eighties are a dicey period for Beattie's short fiction. These stories often feel unfinished. You'll get the same type of intro, where you're drawn into a complex web of relationships, but the ultimate point seems to be achieved when a character experiences a complex emotional state that cannot be put into words. Then the story ends abruptly. These eighties stories are often very short, but a lot of work to get through.
There are two stories from the early nineties, then, starting in 2000, a series of stories from the oughts. These most recent stories are brilliant. The final three or four stories in the volume are masterpieces of short fiction. Beattie has added to her palette the issues of aging and death, while still juggling fractured family dynamics as a backdrops. These stories are funny, wise, thoughtful, and poignant. Everything you want in fiction.read more
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