This story can be found in the November 23, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.
This review can also be read on The Mookse and the Gripes.
First Line: "Heidi and Bree were rear-ended on Route 1 by Sterne Clough, driving his brother's Ford pickup."
Last Line: "She had no doubt nodded in agreement."
Bradley Clough is coming to terms with what his life has become after the death of his wife, Donna.
Well, also his time in Vietnam...
Yet Ann Beattie takes us on a rambling, fabricated journey of "telling" (not "showing"), marking the path with senseless brand name-dropping - Puma, Newman's Own, Coke. It seems as if she is cataloging evidences of the characters' lives to convince us of their reality. Instead, this story feels like a meandering gossip reel. Characters and their connections to each other are dropped in so quick and hard in the beginning that I thought: who cares? Who was there to connect to and follow?
About a third of the way in, Beattie focuses solely on her main guy. And it makes sense that she is taking an artistic route, and fleshing out his existence for us... I can almost see what she is intending to do for us as readers. There is a lot of potential here, but... Is she trying to sound like the younger writers of the day? I don't even like when they do this kicking realities around and making them squeal for the reader.
The dialogue is heavy and unnatural. Beattie's "telling" flows better than what we overhear the characters say. There are attempts at wry humor, but it feels forced - for show. Not only am I lacking any concern for Bradley (I cared more about his brother Sterne!), but the participants of this tale seem made up - static, except for well-placed details in order to create spontaneous life on the page. A lot of attributes or quirks, or even life events, seem random. Sudden. Oh! I need to tell them this part, too!
Readers are pretty brilliant. "He finished his seltzer, peed, and undressed, draping his clothes on the bedpost. The next day was Saturday, so he'd wear them a second day." One, readers understand that the clothes on the bedpost assumes a second wear, otherwise they would have gone to the laundry basket or even the floor. And two, how many times can one use the word "day" in a sentence?
The concept of starting with one character and bumping around until we get to the protagonist and how they connect to the first is fascinating. There were just too many loose ends here. This story felt like the kitchen "junk drawer" - many great pieces taken out on their own, but put together, they create a mess not to be dealt with.
Photo credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e8/Ann_Beattie_headshot.jpg