three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-Walks With MenAnn Beattie’s groundbreaking short stories began to appear in such publications as the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly in the 1970s, igniting a career that has spanned four decades. The author of seven novels and eight short story collections, Beattie has received a PEN/Bernard Malamud Award for lifetime achievement and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award for excellence, among others. Reviewed: Follies ( 3 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2005).

The Story: "In 1980, in New York," explains Jane Jay Costner, "I met a man who promised me he would change my life, if only I’d let him. The deal was this: he’d tell me anything, anything, as long as the information went unattributed, as long as no one knew he and I had any real relationship." That man, an acclaimed writer twice her age, seduces the naive 21-year-old Harvard graduate with his success, his overweening self-confidence, and his meticulous guidance on all things in good taste. But when a mysterious woman with a startling secret shows up at the Chelsea brownstone Jane shares with her lover, she must choose between passion and autonomy.
Scribner. 102 pages. $10. ISBN: 9781439168691

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"At barely more than 100 pages, Walks With Men is as succinct as a text novel and better written by far. ... She’s not averse to delivering a good time, and clearly she’s having fun here. Even at Jane’s expense." Ellen Kanner

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"With its taut telling of a frequently inexplicable and ill-advised romance, and its abrupt, mysterious conclusion, it shares qualities with some of Beattie’s iconic short stories, including the setting of Manhattan in the early 1980s. Yet this novella is a deceptively complex work, one that touches on the intricate strangenesses of friendship and marriage, and of life in that indulgent period." Sylvia Brownrigg

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Walks is a matter not of sadder and wiser but colder and wiser. Kafka’s over-quoted phrase calls literature the ax used to chop at our frozen interior; Beattie’s ax--or Jane’s, who is largely her alter ego--is itself frozen. Her story is told not as ground encounter but aerially, from a predator drone whose remote target is herself as well as Neil." Richard Eder

Columbus Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While her novels sometimes ramble, Beattie carries off the length of a novella with skill, concentrating her story down to its essence without losing its many razor-sharp details. Walks With Men looks back at a lost time from the point of view of someone still stunned that she could have made such mistakes." Margaret Quamme

Houston Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Beattie kneads her material, lets it rise, kneads it again, playing with layers of memory, points in time and tricks of the heart, just as you’d expect of a writer of her considerable skill. It’s possible to admire the writing without loving the characters." Kyrie O’Connor

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"In Walks With Men Ms. Beattie seems to want to give Jane this sort of retrospective outlook on her life, using her excursions into the third person ... to illuminate both her own need for detachment to understand her life, and the alchemy of the fiction-making process. Unfortunately, Ms. Beattie doesn’t fully commit to this perspective, refusing in the end really to delve into Jane’s psyche and resorting in the volume’s last few pages to a hasty summary of events and an anecdote from later in Jane’s life that may or may not have anything to do with what has gone before." Michiko Kakutani

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Given Jane’s passivity and her reluctance to look deeply into her own heart, it is disappointing not to get more of the kind of surface topography in which Beattie specializes. Beattie’s short stories can be richly textured and studded with cultural detritus, but here, except a cameo by Rollerina, or a Champagne-drenched book party that Woody Allen almost attends and Harold Brodkey leaves after a brief appearance, we get a kind of generalized 1980s New York." Jay McInerney

Critical Summary

A hybrid of the minimalist style she pioneered forty years ago and the more evocative stories she has produced more recently, Beattie’s new novella drew mixed reviews. Detractors panned the detached, camera-like record of events, claiming that the lack of depth rendered her characters passive and prevented readers from empathizing with them. On the other hand, the Miami Herald praised Beattie for "kick[ing] away all the scaffolding of psychobabble and pathography and let[ting] the story tell itself." Admirers also praised her sharp sense of humor and "amazing gift for presenting a complete story in out-of-sequence fragments" (Miami Herald). Walks With Men, though flawed, will entice readers with its haunting tribute to the naivete of youth.