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Beattie, Ann

Ann Beattie (bē´tē, bā´–), 1947–, American writer, b. Washington, D.C. She gained attention in the early 1970s with short stories in the New Yorker; the 48 stories she published (1974–2006) there were collected in The New Yorker Stories (2010). In 1976 she won acclaim for the novel Chilly Scenes of Winter and the story collection Distortions, each chronicling with ironic wit the disillusionments of the upper-middle-class generation that came of age in the 1960s and 70s. Her keenly observed and dryly matter-of-fact early narratives of everyday life are often cast in the present tense. In her later work, especially that beginning in the 1990s, she largely concentrates on the same generation—grown older and more ruminative but not happier—and their often listless progeny. In these works Beattie often employs a much less minimalist style and achieves a new emotional depth as she explores themes that include the sadnesses of middle age and the alienation of characters whose relationships and very lives seem inevitably to falter. Her other fiction includes the novels Falling in Place (1981), Picturing Will (1990), and Another You (1995), the novella Walks with Men (2010), and the short stories in The Burning House (1983), What Was Mine (1991), Park City (1998), Perfect Recall (2000), and Follies (2005).

See Conversations with Ann Beattie (2007), ed. by D. Trouard; studies by C. Murphy (1986) and J. B. Montresor, ed. (1993).

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Beattie, Ann

BEATTIE, Ann

Nationality: American. Born: Washington, D.C., 8 September 1947. Education: American University, Washington, D.C., B.A. 1969; University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1970-72, M.A. 1970. Family: Married 1) David Gates in 1973 (divorced), one son; 2) Lincoln Perry. Career: Visiting assistant professor, 1976-77, visiting writer, 1980, University of Virginia, Charlottesville; Briggs Copeland Lecturer in English, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1977-78. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1977; American University Distinguished Alumnae award, 1980; American Academy award, 1980; L.H.D., American University, 1983. Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters since 1983. Agent: International Creative Management, 40 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019, U.S.A. Address: c/o Janklow and Nesbit, 598 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10022-1614, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

Chilly Scenes of Winter. New York, Doubleday, 1976.

Falling in Place. New York, Random House, 1980; London, Secker and Warburg, 1981.

Love Always. New York, Random House, and London, MichaelJoseph, 1985.

Picturing Will. New York, Random House, and London, Cape, 1990;New York, Vintage, 1991.

Another You. New York, Knopf, 1995.

My Life, Starring Dara Falcon. New York, Knopf, 1997.

Short Stories

Distortions. New York, Doubleday, 1976.

Secrets and Surprises. New York, Random House, 1978; London, Hamish Hamilton, 1979.

Jacklighting. Worcester, Massachusetts, Metacom Press, 1981.

The Burning House. New York, Random House, 1982; London, Secker and Warburg, 1983.

Where You'll Find Me and Other Stories. New York, Linden Press, 1986; London, Macmillan, 1987.

What Was Mine and Other Stories. New York, Random House, 1991.

Park City: New and Selected Stories. New York, Knopf, 1998.

Other

Spectacles (for children). New York, Workman, 1985.

Alex Katz (art criticism). New York, Abrams, 1987.

Americana, photographs by Bob Adelman. New York, Scribner, 1992.

Editor, with Shannon Ravenel, The Best American Short Stories 1987. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

*

Theatrical Activities:

Actress: Play Role in The Hotel Play by Wallace Shawn, New York, 1981.

* * *

Chilly Scenes of Winter and Distortions were published simultaneously, and, to Ann Beattie's consternation, she was quickly celebrated as the chronicler of the disillusioned 1960s counterculture. She was praised as an objective observer of the ennui and disillusion of the postlapsarian love children, the generation that turned on in the 1960s but totally dropped out in the 1970s. Of this Beattie said: "That's a horribly reductive approach. What I've always hoped for is that somebody will then start talking more about the meat and bones of what I'm writing about," and one shares Beattie's sentiment. While it is true that many of her stories use the manners and jargon of the post-counterculture era as a backdropparticularly its songs and culture heroesthese details function in much the same way as Raymond Carver's Pacific Northwest, or Donald Barthelme's New York City. They create a concrete setting from which larger human dilemmas may be extractedin Beattie's case, the difficulties of adjusting to the modern world, the growing distance between one's youthful dreams and present responsibilities, and, most particularly, the fragility and difficulty of sustaining relationships and the despair of loneliness. What also persists in Beattie's fiction, at least until Love Always, is a focus on the common human decency and bonds of friendship that survive even the worst of times. Despite their personal circumstances, Beattie's men and women extend themselves to others.

Since the mid-1980s, Beattie has taken a more negative and less sympathetic or ironic and detached view toward members of the generation who became aging, careless, and smug Yuppies. Picturing Will, while focusing on the problems of balancing career and parenthood, reveals entirely new concerns. As the title suggests, Beattie is not only interested in parenthood and children (here a boy named Will) but in the responsibilities incurred by human will, along with the contingencies determined by an impersonal fate.

Chilly Scenes of Winter, more than any of her subsequent works, details the dreams and values of the 1960s. It concerns a 27-year-old disaffected love-child, Charles, despairing over his girlfriend Laura's return to her husband. Instead of pursuing her, the helpless Charles busies himself with a cast of needy peoplehis childhood friend Sam, his suicidal mother, and ex-girlfriend Pamela (now experimenting with lesbianism), and his helplessly naive sister Susan. When he at last learns that Laura has left her husband he visits her, and they prepare to sail into the sunset.

Beattie treats the loss of optimism and first love as by-products of the 1960s youth culture. She also studies, through Charles and Sam, the aimlessness and ennui of the 1970s lost generation. "You could be happy if you hadn't had your eyes opened in the sixties," is repeated throughout. Beattie retains a characteristic detachmenta balance between an objective (sometimes critical) and affectionate (sometimes mocking) portrait of the times. Charles, for example, is wistful toward the past. Everyone has died, he repeatsnot just Janis Joplin and Brian Jones, but also Jim Morrison's widow Pamela, Amy Vanderbilt, Adele Davis, and maybe even Rod Stewart (about whom, of course, he is wrong). Elsewhere, the world-weary Charles and Sam lament that times have grown worse, because "women put their brassieres back on and want you to take them to Paul Newman movies." Beattie has a wonderful sense of humor.

The dreamer Charles, out of place in any time or locale, is afraid of the present; he is also obsessed with illness and death, and, like many others in the book, he longs to be a child again. But his earnestness, sympathy, and kind generosity are redemptive. Even so, the novel ends bitterly. Sam gets a new and ugly dog, "a terrible genetic mistake," as Charles observes, and one can't help thinking the same of his own reunion with Laura.

The stories in Distortions focus on the empty relationships of married and single couples, on the urgent need for companionship and definition that drives most people. Especially moving are the figures in "Dwarf House," "The Parking Lot," "A Platonic Relationship," "Snakes' Shoes," and "Vermont." Although these characters are only peripherally aware of their drab lives, the reader feels deeply for them. More fully portrayed are the characters in Secrets and Surprises, men and women once again trapped in unfulfilling jobs and personal relationships. A more affluent group, they are into gourmet cooking, jogging, health foods, weekends in the country, and the usual fare of the 1970s upper-middle-class mobile society. What they share is a deep sense of emptiness, although friendship and pets (particularly dogs) are once more their only comfort. Some of Beattie's most memorable evocations of loneliness and yearning are in the title story, "A Vintage Thunderbird," "A Reasonable Man," "Distant Music," and "The Lawn Party." Lines that summarize a lifetimelike one character's remark that people smile because they don't understand each otherunderscore the collection. These people are trapped but they lack self-pity; they are lost but they still extend a hand.

An even more sophisticated society inhabits The Burning House, but it is the juxtaposition of loneliness and selflessness that continues to move the reader. Little occurs in the way of change, although there are occasional moments of muted insight; once again, the stories are evocations of mood, descriptive of states of being. There also remains very little trace of the 1960s past. Of particular interest is the title story and "Learning to Fall," where Beattie concretizes two characters' remarks: "What will happen can't be stopped," and "I'm sick of hearing how things might have been worse, when they might also have been better." "Girl Talk" is about two women, one young, unmarried, and pregnant, and the other, the unborn child's grandmother, who is many times married, wealthy, still beautiful but no longer capable of bearing children. It is about how "pain is relative." "The Cinderella Waltz," one of Beattie's most evocative stories, is about the complex of emotions exchanged between a mother and daughter and their estranged husband/father and his new male lover.

Falling in Place, Beattie's second novel, portrays the limited control one has over one's destiny and how life just seems to fall in place. Once again, Beattie measures the fragility of relationships, here focusing on the disintegration of a family and the guilt that falls to both parents and children. The book lacks a traditional plot; rather, Beattie shifts from character to character and then combines events from each chapter into brief italicized mood interludes. Set in Connecticut and New York in the summer of 1979, the novel focuses on the surrogate emotional relationships each member of the John Knapp family sets up. The climax revolves around the son's quasi-accidental shooting of his sister and how the family members finally face one anotherthings fall into place. Although the book ends with a positive resolution, like Chilly Scenes of Winter, it is bitter and the prognosis for future happiness is bleak.

Love Always, Beattie's third novel, marks a change in style and vision. Less detached, satiric, and sympathetic, her indictment of her materially successful, world-weary people is more pronounced. The book opens at a Vermont retreat, where the sophisticates of a trendy New York magazine, Country Daze, have gathered. Lucy Spenser, for example, under the pseudonym Cindi Coeur, writes both the letters and answers for a tongue-in-cheek Miss Lonelyhearts column. Lucy's niece, 14-year-old Nicole, who joins the group, is a TV actress who portrays an adolescent alcoholic on a popular soap opera. The brilliance of the novel results from Beattie's intertwining how the real-life Vermont group is defined not just by the bucolic fantasy of country life espoused by the magazine but also by the fantasies and grim truth of the Miss Lonelyhearts column, as well as the melodramatic, selfish, and sometimes cruel world of television and Hollywood soaps. The so-called real characters in the novelinfertile in every sense of the wordare as needy and blighted as any portrayed by the printed word or on screen. These characters also lack, one should note, the compassion and generosity that have characterized Beattie's earlier people.

The short stories in Where You'll Find Me are terse, minimalist profiles of Beattie's familiar 1960s and 1970s types, once again estranged from themselves and others. Now successful doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs, they have the money, possessions, and social respect that go along with their time, place, and economic efforts. But they suffer the losses that accompany people of their status and age, such as divorce, illness, and death. Beattie's focus is the enormous disparity between external success and inner emptiness. All the same, these figures retain our sympathy. "People and things never really get left behind," remarks one, very much aware that human connection remains possible.

Picturing Will confronts the next, logical question. Can one have it all: ambition, success, and a child? And if so, how does one deal with the eventualities of divorce, missing fathers, potential stepfathers, andalways of central concernthe young child? Will is the fiveand later six-year-old abandoned child of a scurrilous, selfish, and violent father. His mother, clearly the more caring parent, is torn between career and motherhood. It is her lover, Mel, who truly parents and completely loves Will. The novel is divided into three sections that reflect each family member's point of view: interwoven through these, in addition, is yet another commentary that functions as the authorial voice, in matters of true responsibility and a child's deepest needs. The commentary is, in fact, from Mel's diary.

If Beattie's earlier characters were passive products of a specific social, cultural, and political world, the figures here are personally responsible for their own lives, despite the vagaries of fate. But Beattie never loses her sense of humor. Mel, for example, remarks on the responsibilities of fatherhood: "Do everything right, all the time, and the child will prosper. It's as simple as that, except for fate, luck, heredity, chance, the astrological sign under which the child was born, his order of birth, his first encounter with evil, the girl who jilts him in spite of his excellent qualities."

The fragility of human relationships and their inevitable disintegrationbetween friends, spouses, children and parentsis once again Beattie's subject in What Was Mine. "You Know What," the ironic title of one story, could well characterize many of the others: characters speak on slightly tangential levels that are sufficiently askew to guarantee miscommunication. Mothers and fathers worry over childrenwhose lives justify worrybut the quality and definition of that worry is frequently inappropriate. In "Horatio's Trick," a 19-year-old college student criticizes his mother for being too intimidated by him to directly ask about his life. Beattie acknowledges the son's disturbance: "She was just sitting there, scared to death." The title piece tells of another son whose father died after World War II, and whose mother, true to the father's memory, lived with but never married "Uncle Herb." Ethan, the son, now a young man, loves Herb as a father, but they are forced to separate when the mother, "irrationally angry," decides she no longer wants him in the house. Herb tries to console the son with advice to listen to Billie Holiday's records, study Vermeer's paintings, and "look around" and "listen." He explains that "What to some people might seem the silliest sort of place might be, to those truly observant, a temporary substitute for heaven." One makes due with what one has at hand. The deep compassion in Beattie's portrayals of these necessary accommodations, along with her exquisite evocation of the emptiness and loneliness in both the self and world, continue to place her among the best fiction writers in America today. One is haunted by lines such as the following, exchanged between two 14-year-old boys: "We both suffered because we sensed that you had to look like John F. Kennedy in order to be John F. Kennedy."

The plot of Another You involves an exceedingly complex set of relationships between characters Marshall, Sonja, McCallum, Cheryl, Sarah, Livan, and Tony. Marshall remains the central figure, however, and throughout the story he is dogged by the awareness of a secret involving his past. Eventually the reader learns what this secret is, but Marshall never does. Darcy Fisher, who goes by the stage name of Dara Falcon, also has a secret, and this provides part of the allure that draws Jean Warner, the narrator of My Life, Starring Dara Falcon, to her. This book represents a shift for Beattie: not only is it her first coming-of-age story, but it relies less on the details of the 1970s (Jean in the 1990s tells the story as a flashback) than on the powerful relationships of its characters.

Lois Gordon

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Beattie, Ann

BEATTIE, Ann

Born 8 September 1947, Washington, D.C.

Daughter of James A. and Charlotte Crosby Beattie; married David Gates, 1973 (divorced); Lincoln Perry, 1988

Novelist and short story writer Ann Beattie has earned her critical reputation as a storyteller of the 1960s generation. While her work includes both a children's book, Spectacles (1985), and a collection of essays in art criticism, Alex Katz (1987), her primary preoccupation is with fictional characters who came of age during the turbulent 1960s and are struggling with that legacy. Beattie's spare and direct prose style, which has been linked to the social realism tradition of Hemingway and John Updike, is marked by pop culture references, quotidian details, spiritually lost characters, and deliberately open endings. Although generally praised as a skillful writer, she has been faulted for the apparent lack of purpose in her characters' lives. Beattie notes that "If I knew what it was that was missing [in her characters' lives], I'd certainly write about it. I'd write for Hallmark cards."

A self-described "artsy little thing" and only child of a housewife and a federal government administrator, Beattie grew up in suburban Washington, D.C. In 1968, while a student at American University (B.A., 1969), she was invited to serve as one of several student guest editors for Mademoiselle magazine. Beattie completed an M.A. in English at the University of Connecticut at Storrs (1970) and remained there until 1972 to do further study in English literature. In 1973 she married musician and fellow graduate student David Gates. From 1975-77 Beattie was visiting writer and lecturer at the University of Virginia, and in 1977-78 she was the Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard University.

While still a graduate student, Beattie began submitting her short stories for publication. In April 1974 the New Yorker accepted "A Platonic Relationship," her 20th submission. Her first collection of 19 stories, Distortions, and her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, both appeared in 1976. The novel, which she claims to have written in three weeks, is perhaps her best known work. Its main characters float through the book, incapable of decisive action that would change their unrewarding lives. Charles, mired in a dull job, longs to reestablish his broken relationship with Laura who left him to marry someone else. He is surrounded by his mentally unbalanced mother, by Sam, his best friend and Phi Beta Kappa graduate who cannot afford law school and so must settle for selling men's jackets, and by Pete, his well-meaning but tactless stepfather. The novel became a film entitled Head Over Heels (1979), with Beattie playing a minor role as a waitress. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 1977, Beattie moved to Redding, Connecticut, and became a full-time writer. She published Secrets and Surprises, a collection of 15 stories in 1979. The idea for her next novel, Falling in Place (1980), came to her while she was contemplating a peach tree outside her Redding home. It chronicles a disconnected and disintegrating suburban Connecticut family. At the end of the novel, the family faces a crisis when John Joel, their ten-year-old son, accidentally shoots his sister with a gun belonging to his only friend. The novel received a literature award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1980.

Beattie's marriage to Gates ended in May 1982. She later told Kim Hubbard of People magazine, that "Getting divorced affected everything, my writing included. It affected the way I walked the dog. I did not recover from it quickly." The Burning House,, 16 short stories published in 1982, was seen as evidence of Beattie's growing artistic maturity and confirmation of the fact that the short story seemed the form that best suited her talents. After her divorce, Beattie lived in New York City until 1984 when she moved to Vermont for the summer and wrote her second novel, Love Always (1985), which chronicles the life of Lucy Spenser, editor of the humorous magazine Country Daze. It was followed in 1986 by Where You'll Find Me and Other Stories.

Beattie met her second husband, painter Lincoln Perry, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she had moved following her brief sojourn in Vermont. He provided her with the title to her fourth novel, Picturing Will (1989), the story of five-year-old Will and his mother who moves him from Charlottesville to New York City to pursue her photography career, her boyfriend Mel, and Will's ne'er-do-well father. Unlike many of her previous works, this novel took Beattie three years to complete and was "the single hardest thing I've ever worked on." What Was Mine, another collection of short stories, appeared in 1991. It received praise for its "honest introspection" and "greater sympathy and tenderness." While she continues to remain reticent about offering answers in her fiction to life's most puzzling questions, in these stories Beattie again demonstrates her remarkable ability to recreate the anxiety and angst inherent in white, middle class 20th-century America.

Another You (1995) features an emotionally distant, middle-aged New England professor in a humdrum marriage. The book received largely negative notices, with critics pointing out that the main character's boredom permeated the book and that the labeling and naming of pop culture icons, for which Beattie is known, was not enough to drive the story or characterization. The novel features a secondary narrative involving the revelation, through letters, of a story from the past. It was embraced by Publishers Weekly, however, which wrote, "Successfully avoiding the one-note, affectless deadpan to which her work was in danger of succumbing, Beattie provides plenty of dramatic tension in this absorbing narrative of a man emotionally distanced from his life."

The novel My Life, Starring Dara Falcon (1997) departed from earlier Beattie works in structure and tone. Yale Review's Lorin Stein wrote, "Not only is it her most difficult novel, it is her most intriguing: a tissue of autobiography spun by a woman whose life eludes her." With Park City: New and Selected Stories (1998) Beattie returned to her preferred medium. The title contained 36 short stories, eight of which were new. The new pieces returned to many of the themes of her earlier writing, with the addition of the comic sensibility on view in her last two novels. "All of what Beattie does well is here on brilliant display," wrote Lorrie Moore in the New York Times Book Review. "The theatrical ensemble act of her characters; the cultural paraphernalia as historical record; the not quite grown up grown-ups playing house; the charming, boyish men with their knifelike utterances."

Other Works:

Flesh and Blood: Photographers' Images of Their Own Families (includes an essay by Beattie, 1992). Convergences (1998).

Bibliography:

Murphy, C., Ann Beattie (1986).

Reference Works:

CA 81-84 (1979). CANR 53 (1997). CLC 8 (1978), 13 (1980), 18 (1981), 40 (1986), 63 (1991). DLBY (1982). CBY (1985). FC (1990).

Other reference:

America (12 Oct. 1991). Entertainment Weekly (29 Sept. 1995, 20 June 1997). NYRB (15 Aug. 1991, 5 Nov. 1998). NYTBR (26 May 1991, 24 Sept. 1995, 11 May 1997, 28 June 1998). People (5 Feb. 1990, 2 Oct. 1995). PW (28 Sept. 1992, 31 July 1995). Time (25 Sept. 1995), Yale Review (Oct. 1997, July 1998).

—LISA STEPANSKI

UPDATED BY KAREN RAUGUST

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Beattie, Ann

BEATTIE, Ann

Nationality: American. Born: Washington, D.C., 8 September 1947. Education: American University, Washington, D.C., B.A. 1969; University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1969-70, M.A. 1970. Family: Married 1) David Gates in 1973 (divorced); 2) Lincoln Perry. Career: Visiting lecturer, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1976-77 and 1980; Briggs Copeland Lecturer in English, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1977-78. Lives in Maine and Florida. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1977; American University Distinguished Alumnae award, 1980; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award, 1980. L.H.D.: American University, 1983; Colby College, 1991. Member: American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1990.

Publications

Short Stories

Distortions. 1976.

Secrets and Surprises. 1978.

The Burning House. 1982.

Where You'll Find Me and Other Stories. 1986.

What Was Mine and Other Stories. 1991.

Park City: New and Selected Stories. 1998.

Novels

Chilly Scenes of Winter. 1976.

Falling in Place. 1980.

Love Always. 1985.

Picturing Will. 1990. Another You. 1995.

My Life, Starring Dara Falcon. 1997.

Other

Spectacles (for children). 1985.

Alex Katz (monograph). 1987.

Editor, with Shannon Ravenel, The Best American Short Stories 1987. 1987.

*

Critical Studies:

"Beattie's Magic Slate or The End of the Sixties" by Blanche H. Gelfant, in New England Review 1, 1979; "Through 'The Octascope': A View of Beattie" by John Gerlach, in Studies in Short Fiction 17, Fall 1980; The Critical Response to Ann Beattie edited by Jaye Berman Montresor, 1993.

* * *

In her short stories Ann Beattie seemingly abandons her reader, leaving a trail of unanswered questions about characters' lives. In "Skeletons" (in Where You'll Find Me) the main character, Nancy, never learns about Kyle's car accident, something only the reader is privy to. But even the reader is uncertain about the outcome. Did Kyle die, or was he merely injured, and if so how seriously? The short story "In Amalfi," from Beattie's book What Was Mine, never carries out the narrator's good intentions to return the opal ring given her by the mysterious French woman. Will she return the ring, or is the "conspiracy" between herself and the waiter one of thievery?

Unanswered questions are common in the work of minimalist writers like Beattie and her contemporary Raymond Carver, whose literary craft Beattie much admired. Unanswered questions, so Beattie's work implies, haunt our lives in part because people cannot articulate their true thoughts and feelings. The frequent gaps presented to the reader are echoed in the silences between characters who stop talking because nothing meaningful can be said. In "Friends" (in Secrets and Surprises) all the characters are somehow inarticulate. Francie laments: "I don't know how to talk. I'm either alone and it's silent here all day, or my friends are around, and I really don't talk to them." People cannot speak their minds because they lack the situation and therefore the necessary linguistic "exercise" that would allow them to express themselves freely.

Then again, silence predominates because Beattie's characters wish things left unsaid. Often their continuing as they are depends on the coexistence of multiple but potentially conflicting relationships. Secret liaisons abound in Beattie's fiction, supporting characters with the intimacy they cannot find in their more public marriages or cohabitations. These peripheral encounters with intimacy must never become central to characters' lives for the threat they pose to a safe existence. In "Imagined Scenes" (in Distortions) David cheats on the narrator and by implication on the reader, who sees through the narrator's eyes only a momentary glimpse of David's unfaithfulness. With only the suggestion of an affair made by simple slips like David's reference to a friendly couple as "he" (in an awkward attempt to avoid talking about the wife with whom David is possibly having an affair), the reader is privy to the underworld of these characters' lives, but only in an atmosphere of confidentiality.

Sometimes Beattie's stories surprise the reader with brilliant flashes that in truth reveal nothing. A light is held out, guiding the reader and the characters only further into the morass of relationships. The central character in "Sunshine and Shadow" (in The Burning House) has a sudden brilliant recollection of a childhood tragedy. When he presses his face "nose-close to the window" he sees as an adult the spot on the driveway etched in his mind as a child where his mother had "run a hose into the car" and gassed herself with carbon monoxide. Despite the vividness of the recollection, the momentary revelation offers little aid for his present situation, and still less illumination on the past. The title "Sunshine and Shadow" suggests moments of brilliance that have all the form of revelation but lack the significance of any religious epiphany as meaning retreats into shadow.

In Beattie's world, however, the random occurrence is often all that can be depended on for even illusory meaning. The random crossing of peoples' lives suggests meaning, and in the suggestion characters clutch at the potential for intimacy that they cannot find in more permanent relationships. Characters turn not to their intended partners but to occasional acquaintances, and by implication, so Beattie suggests, even to the reader in the case of first-person narratives, in desperation revealing their secrets to whomever will listen and not accuse. Long-term relationships weight the dialogue between romantic partners in such a way that verbal intimacy becomes too costly. Secrets revealed to an acquaintance pose less of a risk. Ironically, a casual acquaintance turned confidant appears momentarily as a solid relationship, perhaps more meaningful than the committed relationship that now binds the speaker. In the elegantly woven story "Windy Day at the Reservoir" Beattie shows Chap confiding in a neighbor, Mrs. Brikel, a number of secrets that he could never tell his wife. Mrs. Brikel then confides in him that she has always been a person to whom casual acquaintances tell their secrets. It is something that has always mystified Mrs. Brikel, why "some people are drawn to other people. Drawn in so they want to tell them things. It comes as a great surprise to me that I seem to be one of those people that other people need to say things to." In Beattie's fiction intimacy is both essential and deadly to relationships, so characters go on living with people that they seldom say anything meaningful to, content out of necessity to fuel the relationship, turning now and again to casual acquaintances for relief.

Acquaintance and friends often compete with the romantic other. A friend's ability to satisfy momentary cravings for intimacy may eventually suck dry the marrow of romantic attachments. Beattie cleverly symbolizes such parasitic attachments with the introduction of the drug dealer turned friend in "Fancy Flights." The main character, Michael, depends on Carlos for companionship when his relationship with his wife has gone sour. In fact both Michael and his wife attribute the occasional success of their marriage to Carlos who brings the two back together after periods of separation. As grateful as the two are to Carlos, the story hints that Carlos is the satisfier of only Michael's desperate craving, for marijuana, the drug responsible in part for Michael's indifference to commitment and responsibility in marriage. Vitiated of the will to be a good father and husband, Michael is suspended in a marijuana haze, kept in ample supply by the very man who claims to be his friend.

Michael's attitude of inaction is familiar in Beattie's fictional world. Her fiction tells the story, as Margaret Atwood describes it, of a world not of suspense but of suspension. Male characters more often than female characters epitomize the inability to act in their lives of prolonged childhood, but all are affected. Material possessions in the form of comfortable homes, or accessibility to narcotics that momentarily appease physical cravings: such substitutes for activity abound. As the narrator in "Janus" discovers, "Anxiety became the operative force." One doesn't fear what will happen, but what might happen. People exist in a world of the imagination, but without the definition of physical action. Perhaps this is what many readers find most frustrating with Beattie's work. She portrays a world that offers little hope for change, in a literature that illustrates without giving solutions.

Only in What Was Mine do the stories offer a glimmer of hope with any frequency. This may come about because Beattie insists on contemporaneity, altering her tone as her world achieves distance from the despair of postcultural revolution. Among her more hopeful works is "Windy Day at the Reservoir," which ends with Mrs. Brikel gazing at the newly polished floorboards of her living room: "Just looking at it, she could feel the buoyance of her heart." In another story from the same collection, "The Longest Day of the Year," a Welcome Wagon lady, in the irony of her anger, amuses the narrator who treasures the memory of her visit long afterward. Of course, as one might expect from these gems of minimalism, the hope is itself minimal. In the case of "The Longest Day of the Year" the narrator and her husband separate. What would have been a shared memory of the Welcome Wagon lady now becomes "instead a story that I often remember, going over the details silently, by myself."

Ann Beattie's short stories charm less than captivate, luring an audience well-acquainted with the humdrum of yuppie life, but hungry for answers. While her stories offer few answers and raise far more questions, she reminds us of the need to treasure momentary illuminations that reflect a pulse of the life that lingers all too briefly. Such illuminations seem like answers, and for the time being, that may be all one needs.

—Kelly Cannon

See the essay on "The Cinderella Waltz."

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Beattie, Ann

BEATTIE, Ann

BEATTIE, Ann. American, b. 1947. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories, Art/Art history. Career: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, visiting lecturer, 1976-77, 1980, Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Creative Writing, 2001-; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Briggs Copeland Lecturer in English, 1977-78. Publications: NOVELS: Chilly Scenes of Winter, 1976; Falling in Place, 1980; Love Always, 1985; Picturing Will, 1989; Another You, 1995; My Life, Starring Dara Falcon, 1997; The Doctor's House, 2002. STORIES: Distortions, 1976; Secrets and Surprises, 1978; The Burning, 1982; Where You'll Find Me and Other Stories, 1986; What Was Mine, 1990; Perfect Recall, 2000. OTHER: Alex Katz (art criticism), 1987. Address: c/o Janklow & Nesbit, 445 Park Ave Fl 13, New York, NY 10022-1614, U.S.A.

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