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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ann Beattie's narrative style and deceptive authenticity

Good to see a short story, Major Maybe, by Ann Beattie in current New Yorker, been a long time since the last one I think - and I keep as one of my favorite story collections her New Yorker Stories. This story is a reminiscence - unusual for Beattie who has, or so it seems, written primarily about life in the present, in fact she's been one of the great bringers of news as to how we live now. Perhaps as we edge into our (late) 60s reminiscence is in fact how we live in the present? This story captures a moment as the narrator looks back to her youth in the 80s (or 70s?) in NYC, Chelsea, before gentrification, living with an aspiring actor, a guy, but living just as roomies, he seemingly homosexual (though we learn later that he was a bisexual who later married w/ limited success). She focuses on one day in which a neighbor dog frightened a mentally ill woman who frequented their block, sending the woman careening into the path of oncoming traffic. Disturbed by witnessing this, narrator and roommate drink, go for long walk, return home, have sex for first (and presumably only) time w/ each other. She looks back on this as a distant memory, possibly a moment of life choice, she tries to picture the apartment - in fact looks up online images of the apt now for rent as an airbnb, notices the changes, how the apt is dressed up for sale, through staging and photo fakery, and including bursts of flowers, unlike the single flower that then she could barely afford to purchase, and she remembers the dust and pollen that littered the carpet or floor beneath the small vase - a quite beautiful and haunting moment of memory. The story feels autobiographical, but most readers will note that the biographical details and timing don't match Beattie's life - so we see exactly what she does so well in her stories, creates a character who speaks to us in first person w/ a voice of deceptive authenticity; her first-person narrators are so winning and plain-spoken that it's hard not to think of them as authorial, when in fact they - like the staged apartment for rent - are an artistic illusion.

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