Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Friday Fiction: Ann Beattie

--by Hanje Richards

Ann Beattie (born September 8, 1947) is an American short story writer and novelist. She has received an award for excellence from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and a PEN/Bernard Malamud Award for excellence in the short story form. Her work has been compared to that of Alice Adams, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, and John Updike. She holds an undergraduate degree from American University and a masters degree from the University of Connecticut.

Ann Beattie: The New Yorker Stories - 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.

Another You - Marshall is an English professor at a small college in New Hampshire, and he seems to be experiencing one of those pesky midlife crises, as is Sonja, his wife. But Beattie explodes this convention and creates a drama of escalating intensity about how easily ordinary lives can go completely out of control. Every character has a secret, and, unnervingly, every secret is connected. It all begins when Marshall takes too strong an interest in a pretty student distressed by the trauma her roommate has suffered at the hands of another professor. Marshall barely knows McCallum but is soon entangled in his surprisingly volatile, even violent, life. While Marshall grapples with his Pandora's Box, Sonja confesses she's had a rather silly affair with her boss, and then Evie, Marshall's charming stepmother, dies, opening the door on the long-concealed facts of her life. As truth proves to be more elusive than a subatomic particle, Beattie's addled but resilient characters cling to love and strive for compassion, if not comprehension.

Doctor’s House - Siblings Nina and Andrew survived neglect and outright cruelty. Their mother was an alcoholic and their father was a sadist and a philanderer. The narration shifts briefly to Nina and Andrew's mother, who talks about her marriage to the tyrannical doctor and her difficulty connecting to the children, but mostly she indulges in "self-serving re-creations of her past." What all three have in common is a hatred for the monster they once lived with. Unfortunately, the siblings parallel the parents -- Nina marries a doctor and later becomes withdrawn and bitter, while Andrew is sexually compulsive; the cumulative effect of their anecdotes is chilling.

Follies: New Stories - No one can resist comparing Beattie’s grown baby boomers with their younger selves — the characters who appeared in her early short story collections. Those who were once young and aimless still lack direction — only in Follies, they’re much older. This time, the author has given them a past, which is refreshing, especially as they contemplate typical middle-age concerns (parents in nursing homes, children in trouble, failed relationships, etc.). Collection of nine stories and a novella.

Love Always: A Novel - Lucy Spenser, the Miss Lonely Hearts of a chic counter-cultural magazine, finds her unflappable Vermont life completely upended by her teenaged soap-opera-star niece, Nicole, and her hangers-on.
Park City: New and Selected Stories - This collection includes thirty-six stories, including eight new pieces that have not appeared in a book before. Beattie's characters embark on stoned cross-country odysseys with lovers who may leave them before the engine cools. They comfort each other amid the ashes of failed relationships and in hospital waiting rooms. They try to locate themselves in a world where all the old landmarks have been turned into theme parks. Funny and sorrowful, fiercely compressed yet emotionally expansive.

Picturing Will - This novel unravels the complexities of a postmodern family. There's Will, a curious five-year-old who listens to the heartbeat of a plant through his toy stethoscope; Jody, his mother, a photographer poised on the threshold of celebrity; Mel, Jody's perfect -- perhaps too perfect -- lover; and Wayne, the father who left Will without warning and now sees his infrequent visits as a crimp in his bed hopping. Beattie shows us how these lives intersect, attract, and repel one another with dazzling shifts and moments of heartbreaking directness.

What Was Mine and Other Stories - A collection of short fiction, twelve works in all, including two never-before-published novellas. Here are disconnected marriages and uneasy reunions, nostalgic reminiscences and sudden epiphanies -- a remarkable and moving collage of contemporary lives. In the title story, a boy gains a new and disturbing sense of his dead father's identity through the contemplation of loss. "Installation #6" is about the difference between objective and subjective reality. In it an artist has his handyman brother tape record "some thoughts you can listen to" to be played in the gallery where his construction is on display. The monolog thus becomes both a part of and a commentary on the artist's work. Next, against a sensuous Mediterranean backdrop, a woman vacationing with her husband faces the shortcomings of their relationship in "In Amalfi."