Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Beattie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Beattie. Show all posts

16 February, 2015

Ann Beattie, "The Indian Uprising"

Seventy-year old poet, former professor, Franklin, and Maude, get together for a visit. He's sick, an alcoholic, about to die, she visits Philadelphia. For me, this story seems all over the place. There are some sentences or a couple of paragraphs that seem, to me, unnecessary. "I walked forever down the train track...inspecting him for nits." And, "How was I going to get it near the table again, though?" And, I'm not sure about the whole bit about the neighbor guy wanting the hallway to be widened for his car. I do think the relationship between the former student and professor is interesting and touching or even weird and co-dependent and somewhat unbelievable. However, that being said, I love the ending paragraph but am not sure the story actually leads to it.

"The Indian Uprising" was first published in Granta and then included in the 2014 issue of The Best American Short Stories.

10 January, 2015

Ann Beattie, "The Unlikely Friend"

Two young women, both twenty-four, who still live at home with their parents, and have been friends since adolescence spend a weekend together. They are playing at being adults alternating with attempts at regaining their childhood innocence. J.J. and Ellen have different personalities as well as opposite family dynamics. Opposites attract sort of idea, "Was there such a thing as an unlikely friend?"

"The Unlikely Friend" is included in the current issue of American Short Fiction, number 58.

Favorite Lines:

"Only people of Dianna and Charlie's generation rushed toward trouble."

"Her hair was pinned up in the sloppily fashionable way women almost stopped bothering with, afraid it would make them look like Sarah Palin."

03 January, 2015

Ann Beattie, "And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away"

Nona and her sister, Prue, spend some time together when Prue visits from Pennsylvania. Nona is sixty-three and Prue, seven years younger. As they have discussions and interactions, old pains and grudges and judgments make their aged and ripened appearance. Siblings tend to have vulnerable scabs that are sometimes easily scraped fresh.

Several themes come to mind for me, old emotional wounds, sibling interactions and mostly women whose expectations have not been met and have instead generated disappointments, addiction and the attendant stress for family members. Another theme, for me, is that we all create our own fictions, those stories we tell ourselves about our lives. "It's my own fiction." Nona's son, Max, is a cocaine addict and when she meets a younger woman with a problematic son, Nona feels for her and in some ways it is like Nona is re-experiencing some of her difficulties of raising a child. I absolutely love the ending as a nice finishing touch that brings all the pages before into sharp focus. "The woman's back was turned to her on purpose, Nona realized. Though when had she ever believed that you had to look into another person's eyes to know something?" A woman knows another woman. A mother knows another mother. A mother with a troubled son knows another mother with a troubled son.

There are a lot of great descriptions of pies and cakes at the outdoor market where Nona goes to fill in for the "Jam Lady." Prue is ever so helpful just like the Girl Scout she'd always been. Oh, don't siblings just always think they know what is best for each other? Nona's husband doesn't play a huge role but he does make a recurring appearance. There are a lot of literary references, Alice in Wonderland, A Tale of Two Cities, To the Lighthouse, The House of Mirth which could be read in some ways as mirroring the relationship in the Worth, husband/Nona household.

The story is told in third person POV and past tense. There are a few spots that almost shift in POV. "Max thought his father's absence was deliberate. She could sense it." With the second sentence we learn that Nona sensed what Max was thinking so the first sentence alone would be a shift but coupled with the next, I guess it's not a shift. Also, "Prue was looking at her. She almost said something, then stopped." Technically I think that's a shift. Not that it is wrong, I'm just trying to understand the story and it's structure. The story is so chock full of analogies and metaphors and references that a person could write many pages.

"And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away" was published by One Story, issue 199.

Favorite Lines:
"But the talk about Nona's substituting for Alice became a brushfire. It came back and came back, no matter that she tried to douse the flames."

"Meanwhile, another person wanted to buy that pie, the minute she overheard it was sold. She did not buy any of the other things still for sale."

"Earlier, they'd sold a jar to a woman on her cell phone who'd never stopped talking even when she handed over a ten dollar bill, and she would have walked away without the change if Prue hadn't run after her."

"It was amazing how quickly things people had in common came up in conversation."

"'Then what? Your son would have been perfect, if you had judgment, and your husband would have been a saint?'"

"'When did chicken and fish become 'protein'?' Prue said. 'At the same time hair conditioner and gels became 'product'?'"

"Her child was with her again, and she looked like an actress playing the part of the fatigued yet happy mother."

10 December, 2013

Ann Beattie, "Anecdotes"

I have one other story by Ann Beattie listed on my blog and re-reading that entry reminds me that I really liked that story, "Where You'll Find Me." However, this story, "Anecdotes," I'm not so sure. Of course, I'll read it a second and a third time. Usually, when a story makes it to one of the prize anthologies, if I commit the time to a careful reading, I find what makes it a gem. One reason some people don't care for short stories might be that work and effort is often required. Not all short stories are just for entertainment. In fact, in my opinion, the good ones are rarely just entertaining. We learn about ourselves; we learn about others which is how we become empathetic citizens.

Although I know that in the academic setting slide projectors are sometimes still used but coupled with the use of a cellphone is a bit anachronistic. It bothered me just a tad. I know there was overlap and, in fact, some universities may still use an odd slide projector here and there.

The three characteristics Beattie gave to Paul, a very minor character, were wonderful, I thought. "Though ostensibly monogamous for the three-plus years he and Christine lived together, he'd given her herpes." "…and stayed in bed the night she had food poisoning." And, "He'd kept a picture of her from her modeling days in his wallet." These details tell us the kind of man Paul was and Lucia is one of those women, mothers, who is willing to concede to men no matter their faults and blame women, in this case, her daughter, Christine.

Also, this line bothered me quite a bit when Anna admits that Lucia told her something about Edwina. "I think you whispered to me who she was." This rings untrue to me. Why the whispering? Anna was at Lucia's house for Thanksgiving. I don't believe the need for whispering. Just doesn't seem that it would have been that conspiratorial and/or she'd have mentioned it after guests had left.

Also, that the young writer would be so angry with Edwina that he'd throw bricks through her window. I don't find that believable. I can understand that the young writer husband was devastated that his wife was killed traveling to meet him but the bricks at Edwina's window, really? Even though we find out that the young writer slept once with Edwina the physical violence seems a stretch.

Also, when Christine is introducing herself as "from the English department," I'm confused because I thought she was hoping to get a position at Columbia. She wasn't already a professor there. I like the description, "Suddenly there were voices in the corridor, and students rushed in like horses spooked by firecrackers." This is a realistic and believable description. For me, it seems, in this story Beattie has her best descriptions and details around the central story instead of in the middle of the main story.

This particularly bothered me. "I thought: why do you never offer to pay, like you're a princess?" Even if Anna is broke and/or petty about money, the thought just seems weird. It just seems that I've read much better controlling-old-lady dialogue. This is a great sentence, "She had seated herself one chair in, giving me the aisle, gesturing grandly, as if the seat were a gift." Now that tells a lot about Christine's mother.

Then to throw Bruce Chatwin's name with no clarification seemed pretentious.

"Come to my house. Get out of there; get out of that environment." What? What environment? The author hasn't really laid that groundwork. And, "Your eyes are as big as saucers, Anna." Yikes. I almost threw my book down.

"I wasn't pleased about knowing this information before Christine did. It would make a liar of me if I pretended what I was hearing was news, and I'd be her mother's confidante if I let on that she'd already told me." This is one of my favorite lines.

"'Anna?' Lucia said. 'You seem to have turned your attention inward.'" Yikes again. That line is a clunker. "Inward," not even a pretentious old lady would say that. "What would Christine think of me disappearing?" Again, a clunker to my ear. "Important fact," really!

The Chinese restaurant scene made me feel my head had been jerked around. Cashmere coat, again, why? The plastic knights, red nail polish and AstroTurf make a humorous symbol but could have been better integrated into the story.

"Maybe she and I would talk, and become fierce enemies, or even best friends--why not…" Please oh please. Ann Beattie is a wonderful, accomplished and prolific writer but I just don't connect very well with this particular story.

An interesting article from The Paris Review

02 January, 2011

Ann Beattie, "Where You'll Find Me"

"Where You'll Fine Me" is written in first-person POV and present tense. We've all experienced the type of family holiday get together or party in which someone confides something, dysfunctions are highlighted, and unhappinesses--previously ignored--become visible. An annual celebration mixed with purge of guilt. The less cynical aspect of the story is the hope that happiness lurks in surprising places. The story is 14 pages long and first published in The New Yorker in 1986.

29 December, 2010

Ann Beattie, "Moving Water"

"Moving Water" is a first-person story included in the compilation, Ann Beattie: The New Yorker Stories. It dates from 1982 and is about six pages long.

When Sandy and Jason decide to end their relationship, Jason tells her that he'd never loved her and that he merely had very good manners. She then recalls their moments together and now has to include with them that he didn't love her then. This revelation makes her realize how things look differently depending on our emotional involvement.

He steals her memories yet when he divided up their belongings, he kept several of her items and surreptitiously gave Sandy one of his shirts.

I especially like how the title, "Moving Water," is tied to the last sentence of the story. " made it seem that the water was being blown downstream, instead of flowing." This ties the theme together nicely; the water moves and whether or not is is blowing or flowing depends on how we look at it. Our emotional involvements alter how we see things.

27 December, 2010

Ann Beattie, "Lawn Party"

Ann Beattie's story from 1976 titled, "Lawn Party," is written in a first-person POV, present tense and was first published in The New Yorker. It is now included in the new collection, Ann Beattie: The New Yorker Stories. There are 48 stories dating from 1974 to 2006 arranged chronologically which I presume is a complete compilation of her stories published in The New Yorker.

The narrator tells of his love for his wife's sister, Patricia. He's holed himself in his childhood bedroom witnessing the family's annual Fourth of July lawn party from his window. Various people try to encourage him to join the party; he refuses. His 10-year old daughter, Lorna, says, "You won't answer any of my questions, and you say silly things." The ex-wife, Mary, left him when Patricia, the narrator's mistress, crashed the car and the narrator lost his right arm. He's bitter and spoiled and never takes responsibility for his actions, nor does he expect to suffer consequences.

Also included is one of the narrator's art students from the college where the narrator is a professor. He's presumably going to return to teach painting without his dominant arm and hand. The student is named Banks and he comes to the narrator's childhood home to borrow money. The narrator never leaves his childhood bedroom but he does notice that his mother has placed a few items that do not belong in his otherwise unchanged bedroom.

Dallas Morning News review
Simon and Schuster site
review in SFGate