Ann Beattie & the 60's
ANN BEATTIE’S stories have been appearing in the New Yorker for the past few years, and have now been collected in a volume called Distortions,* published simultaneously with the author’s Chilly Scenes of Winter, a novel. It is unusual, of course, for a new author to appear with two books at once, but evidently Ann Beattie has been able to compel special treatment from her publisher as well as from reviewers and readers. It is the uniqueness of her talent that compels. Her best fiction renders a distinctive subject matter in a distinctive tone, and the note she sounds is powerfully her own.
Her subject matter is a certain shiftlessness and lack of self-apprehension besetting people in their twenties and thirties: a former Phi Beta Kappa guiltily resigned to living on welfare checks, young wives rejecting husbands and lovers in desultory and emotionless gestures of independence, a lesbian feminist whose only friends are male. She conveys the drabness of these lives by her tone and by an almost hallucinatory particularity of detail. We are taken on that round of grocery shopping, walking the dog, getting the worthless car fixed, which Auden had in mind when he said that “in headaches and in worry,/Vaguely life leaks away.” But Beattie’s writing is not tedious; there is, instead, something graceful and painstaking about her fidelity to the ordinary.
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