Books by Ann Beattie

Released: April 2, 2019

"Obvious is one thing Beattie never is. Her elegantly sculpted tale is both wrenchingly sad and ultimately enigmatic: as usual."
A New England boarding school for "really bright kids who've screwed up" proves a poor preparation for adult life. Read full book review >
Released: June 13, 2017

"Despite flickers of optimism, this is a somber collection pondering mortality, fate, and the unknowability of others."
The John Cheever of her generation, Beattie (The State We're In: Maine Stories, 2015, etc.) has long chronicled the emotional foibles of upper-middle-class WASPs with sharply chiseled wit; in these 13 new stories, travel or a visit of some sort is the common thread, mortality the common theme. Read full book review >
THE STATE WE'RE IN by Ann Beattie
Released: Aug. 11, 2015

"An engaging collection of varied characters, if varying degrees of substance."
The veteran short story master explores the peculiarities of summer life among well-off and often emotionally unwell Maine denizens. Read full book review >
MRS. NIXON by Ann Beattie
Released: Nov. 15, 2011

"Self-indulgent though fitfully intriguing."
Best known for her short fiction (The New Yorker Stories, 2010, etc.), Beattie circles around an enigmatic First Lady in an odd text that takes a lit-crit approach to a biographical subject. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2010

"Beattie (Walks with Men, 2010, etc.) sometimes stumbles, but her mordant and frequently comic depictions of ways in which we persevere, screw up and usually survive our own foolishness give her better stories genuine power, and make them well worth returning to."
A generous gathering of 48 stories first published in the eponymous weekly often defined by Beattie's trademark understatements, ellipses and—let's admit it—occasionally clichéd situations and plots. Read full book review >
WALKS WITH MEN by Ann Beattie
Released: June 1, 2010

"Beattie's talent remains formidable, but this is pretty thin."
The 16th work of fiction by Beattie (Follies, 2005, etc.), which begins in 1980. Read full book review >
FOLLIES by Ann Beattie
Released: May 1, 2005

"When Beattie is this good, she's essential reading. When she isn't, it's the usual mixed bag."
Beattie's seventh collection explores middle age and generational conflict in an edgy novella and nine stories of varying intensity and excellence. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 12, 2002

"The novel really isn't this writer's métier, and The Doctor's House is not one of her better books."
A family so dysfunctional that it makes the House of Atreus look like the Brady Bunch gradually reveals its secrets in Beattie's emotionally charged seventh novel, her first since My Life, Starring Dara Falcon (1997). Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 14, 2001

"Beattie strikes more nerves than a ham-fisted dental technician. Exceptionally interesting work."
People whom trouble always seems to find and introspective victims of fractured relationships are the featured players in Beattie's strong seventh collection—published in the immediate wake of the Pen/Bernard Malamud Prize awarded to her this month. Read full book review >
PARK CITY by Ann Beattie
Released: June 12, 1998

This compilation of 36 tales, with eight never before published in book form and the remainder drawn from this prolific author's five story collections, starkly illuminates Beattie's strengths and limitations. Her spare, unfussy style, her pitch-perfect ear for the manner in which we really speak to one another, and her sharp analysis of the ways in which disaffection and loss deform relationships and character are all abundantly on display here. As in Beattie's novels (My Life, Starring Dara Falcon, 1997; Another You, 1995, etc.), the best of these tales (including "Where You'll Find Me," "Learning to Fall," and "Waiting") offer a unique portrait of American anomie; her characters know that they are lost, are desperate to make contact, but are also deeply wary of doing so—they are deeply hurting and hidden by turns. But Beattie walks a delicate line, and frequently her depiction of alienation becomes itself alienating, and her chill vision (as in, say, "Where You'll Find Me") becomes a bit too insistent and unvaried. At her best, Beattie is a perceptive and unsettling writer; at other times, her portraits seem formulaically downbeat and unpersuasive. Both versions are on display here. Read full book review >
Released: May 12, 1997

Beattie follows up the successful Another You (1995) with a tale of domestic grief on a low boil. Dara Falcon is the sort of woman who can easily stick in your craw. As predatory and majestic as her namesake, she manages to swoop down on poor Jean Warner and sink her talons in: "Dara Falcon was once Darcy Fisher. She either had or hadn't been a promising young actress. She either did or did not have a baby when she was sixteen." Nothing is very clear about Dara's past, and—as Jean figures out after she's known her for a while—her present life is hardly less deceptive In the small New Hampshire town where Jean lives with her husband Bob, however, Dara's sudden and unexplained appearance brings a measure of glamour that most of the locals are too dazzled to question. Passionate, charming, seductive, Dara makes a play for most of the men in town but settles for a while on Tom Van Sant, an old schoolmate of Bob's. This puts Jean in an awkward position when the two part ways, since she has to assume the most thankless of diplomatic roles as intermediary to a broken couple. When an elaborate conflict over the return of Tom's ring blows up in Jean's face and Data accuses her of disloyalty, Jean slowly begins to wonder what manner of girl she's dealing with. "It would be difficult to explain why Data and I went on to have a friendship," she concludes. "It was a friendship . . . in which I listened in desultory fashion and trusted absolutely nothing she said." Finally, a resolution is offered when a tragedy confirms Jean's suspicions about Dara's motives and priorities, and allows her to find a way out of the emotional maze of Dara's many damaging fantasies. Crisp prose with little behind it: Beattie's narrative skill nearly makes up for the paltry tale itself—but not quite. Read full book review >
ANOTHER YOU by Ann Beattie
Released: Sept. 22, 1995

Beattie's first novel since Picturing Will (1990): a chilling, intriguing, and altogether deft exposition of the domestic life of a middle-aged college professor who finds his world cracking beneath the strain of a deluge of unsought revelations. Marshall Lockard is going through something a good deal worse than your ordinary midlife crisis. An English professor at a rather woebegone little college in New England, he plods through his coursework, hardly enthusiastic but too cynical to be disillusioned. Meanwhile, his wife, Sonja, is involved in a loveless affair with her boss; his stepmother is dying; and one of his students has flabbergasted him by telling him dreadful things about a colleague. Haplessly, Marshall allows himself to be drawn into a very tangled web of rape, perversion, pathological lies, obsession, and mental illness, in which no point of view is reliable, and truth itself seems to exist only as a rather callous metaphor: "Literature was the study of Them by Us. It was undertaken by people smart enough to make a microscope of the page—or, more fashionably, to assert that things could shake out any number of ways because the page was a kaleidoscope." The investigation that Marshall takes on at his student's instigation succeeds in discovering unimagined secrets at just about every remove of his own life, and he takes to the road—comically enough, to Florida during spring break—in an attempt to settle the mysteries of his own childhood. Through all of this, Beattie manages to keep the metaphorical elements here grounded in a narrative at once compelling and disturbing, and she broadens the perspective immensely by juxtaposing the unhappy marriage of Marshall's father—as revealed in old love letters interleaved throughout the text—with the spectacle of Marshall and Sonja trying to make a success of their own married life. Vivid, rich, and utterly real: this time, Beattie has fitted her voice to her subject perfectly, and shaped her subject without flaw. Read full book review >
WHAT WAS MINE by Ann Beattie
Released: May 1, 1991

Beattie's fifth collection of stories, 12 in all, continues to chart the course of fractured love and family in modern, restless times. Marriage bonds are broken, new alliances formed, children and parents struggle with their feelings. In "Honey," couples eye one another on the sophisticated suburban party circuit, subtly testing the waters of infidelity, while family tensions lurk just below the surface. In "The Longest Day of the Year," "Home to Marie," and "Windy Day at the Reservoir," marriages disintegrate. However, all is not forlorn: A divorced couple vacations together in "In Amalfi." In "Imagine a Day at the End of a Life," a husband walks in the woods, ruminates on his 40 years of marriage and the different ways his five grown children have turned out, and calmly reflects on the next milestone in his life. And in the title story, one of the collection's best, a boy is raised by his unhappy mother and his "uncle" Herb (his widowed mother's lover). Years later, when both are dead, the boy, now a man, receives a legacy from Herb—some Billie Holiday sheet music, a drawing of a cocktail cherry on a placemat, love letters to Herb from his mother, and an envelope with two pictures of the boy's father—seemingly meager leavings that summon up the caring of an unsung mentor. Deftly crafted, particularly in the child-parent quandary, these stories nonetheless leave surprisingly little impact on the reader when taken as a whole, save perhaps for the sense of disquiet and aimless search these characters are destined to go through. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 29, 1989

Children have often figured prominently in Beattie's fiction, though they have seldom been as young as Will, the five-year-old object of inquiry of her first novel since Love Always (1985): it's a kind of contemporary version of James' What Maisie Knew in which Beattie—with mixed results—places Will in a tangle of divorced parents and their new spouses and lovers and patrons. Though the primary emphasis here is on the mother, Jody, and the father, Wayne, italicized linking passages—little essays on childhood—underscore Will's central position in the triptych. Jody and Wayne divorced some time ago, after Wayne walked. Mother and son now live in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Jody works as a wedding photographer; her "secret work"—her own photographs—have become so good that devoted lover Mel is arranging her first show with Haveabud, an epicene conniver and New York gallery-owner. As Jody breaks into the big time, so Mel gives his all to raising Will. He drives him to Florida to visit Wayne; en route, Will has his first intimation of evil when he catches Haveabud fooling around with another small boy in a motel bathroom. Good-looking, promiscuous Wayne turns out to be a major-league flake; he is already thinking of leaving his third wife, Corky, a good-hearted soul who wishes she were Will's mother. While the childless Corky and Mel demonstrate their fine nurturing qualities, Wayne and Jody fail Will shockingly—Wayne by causing a chickens-coming-home-to-roost scene in which Will must see his father led away in handcuffs, Jody by refusing to listen to Will's revelations about her "manic mentor" Haveabud. The familiar Beattie world of dislocations, where "love is like a feather in the breeze," is rendered awkwardly here. The scenes of Haveabud's pederasty and Wayne's arrest seem forced and arbitrary; the childhood essays are irritatingly portentous; and it's not until Florida that Beattie hits her stride. Still, her quirky humor and her dialogue, wickedly good, just about make the trip worthwhile. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 20, 1987

Beattie writes a serviceable and (for a change in this series) unjadedly enthusiastic introduction to the choices she's made—and, once more, the picker says a good deal about the picked: many stories here trade in the centripetal shagginess of detail yet narrow narrative lurch that mark so many of Beattie's own works. Hardly a story is pointed or sharpened: they have broad, even bottoms that work best with comedy (Ralph Lombreglia's "Men Under Water") and worst with melodrama (Kent Haruf's "Private Debts/Public Holdings"). Susan Sontag's impressively urgent, breath-held portrait of trying to live around the AIDS plague is a good piece of stylization, as is Mavis Gallant's funny, resigned comedy of cultural ruin, "Kingdom Come." The two most superficially involving stories are Sue Miller's "The Lover of Women"—a calm, year-by-year sexual dance that owes a lot (too much) to numerous stories by Peter Taylor; and Craig Nova's "The Prince"—with that signature Nova imprint of classical tale-telling and gargantuan pretention. The winner here, hands down, is Bharati Mukhergee's "The Tenant"—a story deceptively simple and inevitable (a young Indian woman's exile in the Midwest; hungers that can be appeased) that has no trace of the disingenuousness of so many others here: a strong, bouyant piece of work. Included this year, by the way, in the contributor's notes, is an opportunity for each writer to talk about the genesis of his or her story—a sophomoric, writing-workshop idea that adds nothing to the stories at all. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 16, 1986

Sixteen pieces by Beattie (nine from The New Yorker): glimpses of anxiety and ennui done with fashionable skill and deftness. A daughter, in "In the White Night," has died of leukemia, and her parents, aware of their growing eccentricity, "had learned to stop passing judgment on how they coped with the inevitable sadness that set in. . ." Most of these stories have a similar "sadness" in them, though less often does it have origins as weighty. In "Lofty," a woman cuts her finger climbing a tree at a house she had lived in with a lover ten years earlier; the inquisitive reader isn't going to find out, as the woman comes down from the tree, why it is exactly that the taste of her blood "brought tears to her eyes." Doubt, uncertainty, sadness, anxiety: at times they come from identifiable causes (a miscarriage in "The Big Outside World"; a breast lump in "High School"; a woman having "exploratory surgery" in "Coney Island"). At others (many others), they come from the wistful infelicities of love (in "Spiritus," a man on vacation with his wife fantasizes about his girlfriend; in "Times," a young wife remembers her husband's crying-in-the-pillow admission of an infidelity). And there are also times when it seems the characters just need a good shaking, something to take their minds off themselves ("Ned and I have been divorced for three years," says a woman in "Cards," while eating in a fancy restaurant, "and I still turn to stone when his name is spoken"). One has to like these pampered characters a lot (not always easy) in order to give the weight to their permanent-press sorrows that seems to be expected (in the title piece, a Salinger-esque brother-sister story, the girl, with a broken arm, says that she does "think of my arm as a broken wing, and suddenly everything seems so sad that I feel my eyes well up with tears"). Skilled woe-is-modern-life pieces with little underneath and few surprises, but expert on the modish surface. Read full book review >
LOVE ALWAYS by Ann Beattie
Released: June 10, 1985

Beattie, author of the acclaimed Chilly Scenes of Winter, once again pierces the peccadillos of our dissatisfied modern culture. Her landscape here is the wilderness of our modern "angst," with its postures, self-help rationalizations, and fickle lunges toward fast-food happiness and "success." Beattie's wacky pastiche centers around Country Daze, an ultrachic Yuppie magazine published from a small Vermont town. Ex-New Yorker Hildon is the editor/entrepreneur who has turned the contributions of a family of eccentrics into a surprising success story. Most prominent among these is Lucy Spenser, his insecure, lover/best friend for the past fifteen years, who now writes a bizarre Miss Lonelyhearts column and who mourns her recently ended, longtime romance by having an occasional sniff of cocaine and stolen afternoons in bed with her boss. Hildon has always loved Lucy and happily neglected his wife; but when his wife asks for a divorce, he finds his dream of marrying Lucy has lost its allure. Their peacefully maintained confusion ends, however, with the summer visit of Lucy's niece Nicole, a 14-year-old soap-opera star who is sent east for a dose of "real" and who tries to make sense of an idiotic world through her inane Hollywood fan-magazine metality. When Nicole's mother is killed, the girl becomes a permanent fixture for her confused aunt Lucy, who oddly warms to the idea of being Nicole's only real security. Instead of "Love always," the empty promise in her ex-lover's Hildon's letters, Lucy realizes that "Love sometimes" will have to do. Beattie's bland, farcical style often reduces characters to types we can laugh at, minimizing the depth of storyline and leaving the reader delightfully amused, but in an objective, dispassionate way. But past fans of her clear insight into our society's absurd rituals will welcome her latest offering, an engaging romp through the perils of modern life and mores. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 5, 1982

"I have had this revelation: that you can look at something, close your eyes and see it again and still know nothing—like staring at the sky to figure out the distance between stars." Here once more, then, in another collection of striking stories, are the befuddled people of Beattie's aging Frisbee generation; now in their thirties, adept at games, they know "how to talk about things" and see life vividly—but they're powerless to order, predict, or figure out the real distances between lives and events in their random colloidal dance. In "Learning to Fall," a woman heads for a marital break-up, drifts toward a lover, knowing what a prophesying friend has known all along: "what will happen cannot be stopped. Aim for grace." Other marriages end with the sudden breaking of glass—a favorite Beattie image. Relationships wind down, each cycle wobbling abrasively, closer to the bone. (In "Playback," the friendship of two women circles again through envy and jealousy—bringing death to a love, to an unborn child.) Beattie's apprehensive children "seem older now": in "The Cinderella Waltz," a resentful and unhappy eight-year-old awaits her glass slippers from Daddy, the slippery prince . . . as his ex-wife and male lover exchange confidences, chatting, "pretending to be adults." And, throughout, Beattie's people (upper-middle, educated, drug/Sixties graduates) are curiously bifurcated, painfully grounded but vividly aware of unreadable phenomena—as the women, perhaps more earthbound, begin to fall away from the lure of grand visionary possibilities. (Husband to wife in the title story: "You know what we all feel inside that you don't feel? That we're all going to the stars . . . I'm already gone.") Once again: brilliantly crafted stories about yesterday's children living without context, naked to pain, knowing that home fires can lead to a burning when you "play house. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1980

In her second novel, Beattie's dessicated people—blunted, wobbling in the lassitude of vague guilts, playing their pinball impulses for bonanza relationships that never quite light up—again drift together in random accident from glossy suburbia to junky Manhattan. The marriage of ad-man John and wife Louise is eddying into nullity as John travels the highways through his week: from the Connecticut home shared with Louise and their two older kids; to the Rye, N.Y., home of John's alcoholic mother, where their youngest child has somehow been settled in permanently; to the apartment of mistress Nina (who works at Lord & Taylor) in Manhattan. John is only casually committed to Nina—until an incident at home drives him into fearful hiding: itchy, foul-mouthed, 15-year-old daughter Mary is shot from a tree by fat, ten-year-old son John Joel. (John Joel didn't know that the gun, given to him by a monstrous peer, was loaded, but he certainly hates his sister—something she calmly accepts while recovering in the hospital.) The shooting of Mary propels John right into Nina's arms, and it also causes ripples that lead to new arrangements for everyone: Louise tags after a woman friend; two friends of Nina's—grad-student Cynthia and lover Spangle (who has almost finished blowing his inherited money)—get back together; and others (a chattering prof, a kook magician) mill around amiably. As always, Beattie's zapping dialogue is extraordinary, and the landscape—seen through splintered vision and blurred through the blab of car radios—edges on a nihilistic madness. But while often sharply effective at short-story length, the spectacle of Beattie's people—immobile lumps endlessly falling in place on their pointed heads—is a claustrophobic, static one; only grad-student Cynthia, who teaches summer-school English to kids "too cool to care," provides a little welcome distance. Rather enervating, then, but also sad, bleakly humorous, and often chilling. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 5, 1978

In one of these somber, imploding short stories, a young woman—most of Beattie's people are edging-over 30—paints her intake and outgo of friends as paper dolls joining hands; and these stories deal with everyone's dogged efforts to cement those flimsy paper connections between friends and lovers. A dropout grad student follows the girl he seems to love in a long, long drive to Colorado—to a dead end where she merely "sits and waits." A man journeys back to his ex-wife trying to find—through the echo of highway static and speed—what he lost some time ago. A pet found and shared in love becomes increasingly vicious as the romantic pairing pales. And in "Friends," a shifting community of young grown-ups, joylessly playing games friends are supposed to play, is abandoned by its hostess after the invasion of homicidal, freaked-out youth—a draught of deadly reality on the hearth. So, in lieu of true or durable communions of flesh and spirit, false linkages are solemnly noted: a man and a woman both have famous fathers; a man and his child are merely "both Pisces." But, nevertheless, there are those piteous surprises, those "points of light": the touch of a long dead parent or sibling; small highs of well-being ("Sometimes when all of us are together we have good times"); and a certain peace in powerlessness—a shrouding snowstorm, a toss in the air. Beattie's people are wary and anxious, yet they possess an odd bleak courage as they take baby steps in a world that promises but cannot deliver. The second collection from a major talent. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 13, 1976

Up the down mood elevator mostly with Charles, a self-styled "mess" who fantasizes and cultivates his "spiritual trouble" although he's got some genuine wretchedness to contribute to it. Mostly his mother who's depressed or screaming crazy or thinking up interesting ways of doing away with herself—heatpads in the bath or too many laxatives. But there's also Laura, whom he loves, who is theoretically married, who avoids him and goes off with a taxi driver and another woman, but comes back—to him. At one point Charles thinks of Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces and he's just that kind of young man, hanging loose or hung up. Or reflecting what we call, more pretentiously, anomie. Ann Beattie doesn't try too hard and thus succeeds in making her book casual, fresh (either way), and appealing. Read full book review >
DISTORTIONS by Ann Beattie
Released: Aug. 13, 1976

As an act of faith—one hopes rewarded—this collection of short stories is to be published simultaneously with Ann Beattie's Chilly Scenes of Winter. The temperature's the same—"It's hard to imagine that somewhere in the world it's warm today"—and a number of the pieces deal with similar unattached young people in dissolving relationships. Many of them seem to lounge through life, free or rather trapped, thinking of something they might do—perhaps write a letter to Nixon. Often they don't get around to it. Their existence is as much of a random option as the offhand way in which Miss Beattie uses interstices of experiences—cf. "Gaps," a clever story, a terrible one. Or the impermanence of Michael in "Fancy Flights," Michael who's lost his job and his wife and now his plant. There's the trivial adultery of "Parking Lot," but toward the end death takes over decisively whether by accident in "The Lifeguard" or by design with an old woman who anticipates its too slow course in "Victor Blue." Strangely enough, "Downhill," in spite of the title, is one of the few stories to reverse the direction and the general tenor of the book. This is a talented writer and she achieves a lien on life through almost imperceptible moments, identifiably true and very mortal. "We wave, they disappear. That was easy." Was it? Read full book review >