Books by Jo Ann Beard

Released: April 25, 2011

"This could be an instruction book for a perceptive teenager. For an adult, it resonates as a bittersweet remembrance of a time when life was more difficult than it should have been."
Angst, and a grudging reconciliation to childhood being left behind, are the heart of this debut novel. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 11, 1998

These one-dimensional autobiographical fragments of girlhood, young adulthood, and a crumbling marriage are exercises in mere recollection, mostly lacking the reflection or the narrative drive to make them worthwhile. There are many reasons a writer's life stories can be interesting to other people. After reading Beard's, it's not easy to remember what they are. Excepting occasional jarring particles of portentousness (``Here is a scene,'' Beard instructs in ``Cousins'') and lapses into a voice embarrassingly reminiscent of a corny newspaper humor column, Beard's recollections usually hit just one note. It's one of childlike wonder, whether the stories take place in her childhood or not. A group of elements recur with an all-too-comforting familiarity—a favorite song played on a car tape deck (or on a Walkman or at a concert), an imaginary friend, a beloved dog, the moon. All are rendered with a generic lyricism consisting largely of the rampant manufacture of similes. Self-doubt and inner conflict don't much figure. External conflict, most notably a marriage that comes to an end, comes across largely as an intrusion into this otherwise unperturbed field of view. Fortunately, in one piece, and in parts of a couple of others, Beard's meandering recall runs into events that transcend the confines of her practiced style. ``Waiting'' juxtaposes two narratives of her mother's death: the December days when she and her sister took turns attending at the hospital and, with what remaining time they had, shopping for funeral arrangements. And in ``The Family Hour,'' Beard uses a lighter touch to give an original account of a familiar situation in memoirs—a childhood with a father who drinks. Were more of her memoirs to display the focus glimpsed in those pieces, they would be the makings of an impressive first book. (Part of this volume appeared in the New Yorker, and Beard is the recipient of a 1997 Whiting Award.) Read full book review >