three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-The New Yorker StoriesAnn Beattie has published eight short story collections and seven novels. Her work has appeared in four O. Henry Award collections and in John Updike's Best American Short Stories of the Century (1999). Reviewed: Walks With Men: Fiction (3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2010) and Follies (3 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2005).

The Stories: Spanning three decades, these stories, all originally published in the New Yorker, reveal Beattie's evolution as a writer. The earlier ones feature wealthy, narcissistic baby boomers disenchanted with their lives. The young woman in "A Platonic Relationship" (1974) leaves her husband and grows close to a male roommate. Then he leaves town. In "Fancy Flights," published soon afterward, a childish man walks out on his family when his dog runs away. "The Lawn Party" (1976) features a man whose affair caused the loss of his arm observing his family's Fourth of July party from afar. By the time of "The Rabbit Hole as Likely Explanation" (2004) and "The Confidence Decoy" (2006), the baby boomers have started to come to terms with their disillusionments but, as in Beattie's earlier work, they are still part and parcel of the dysfunctional American family.
Scribner. 514 pages. $30. ISBN: 9781439168745

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"[The characters] are tin-toy yuppies, wound up by the countercultural revolution of the late '60s and now shuffling about aimlessly, having picked up a few marriages and a summer house in Vermont over the decades. ... Taken as a whole, they amount to an in-depth study of a subculture and a staggering almanac of emotions." Keith Staskiewicz

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"The newer stories are more complex, more developed. ... For longtime Beattie readers returning, don't worry. All that stuff we were fond of in the early stories holds up fine." Isabel Nathaniel

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Wry, understated and closely observed, the stories feature mostly affluent baby boomers who are alienated from their loved ones, disillusioned with their lives and oblivious to the causes of their discontent. ... These haunting stories follow a generation as it matures without ever quite growing up." Katy Read

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What you learn when you read the works of the young Ann Beattie is that she loved men. She was an appreciator, a connoisseur, of men, in all their indefensible glory. ... Beattie eventually loses some of the gleefulness that animated her skewering; the works of the mature writer feel, on the whole, less fresh." Judith Shulevitz

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It may finally be more useful to view Beattie--and similar voices--as a form of music. If it is dissonant, muted, murky; if it strikes a few cryptic chords and then dissolves--so be it." Joan Frank

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"This is a long collection, and reading story after story about impassive people can make you frustrated by the narrowness of Ms. Beattie's ambitions. ... But the saving quality of Ms. Beattie's work is the perceptive way that she links such static, mundane events with matters of the heart." Sam Sacks

Critical Summary

While all critics professed respect for Ann Beattie's significant influence on the American short story, how they reviewed her New Yorker collection depended on how much they really liked her minimalist style--one often devoid of tone, emotion, and cultural signposts. The San Francisco Chronicle categorized reaction to her work in three ways: "masterful," "resistant and chilly," or perhaps "both." Appreciation, it seems, is a matter of literary taste. Certainly, there's much to admire, even if only rarely do the stories tie together neatly. The earlier ones, those that made Beattie's name, are more spartan; the later ones more nuanced, though they bear similarities to their predecessors. Whether or not one embraces her style, few writers capture the American psyche like Beattie.