Beattie, Ann. Park City. Harper Perennial, Toronto 1998. F;07/11.
I got through about 24 of these 36 short stories, published at various times but nearly all set (reverse-nostalgically for me) in a New England arts academic scene in the 1970s. Sort of a high-class version of a picture I became familiar with in university years in the late 60s and 70s: imagined refuge from busted-up marriages and lives, in affected “art”, really just misspent youth (I scramble to admit my own misspending, though at least accurate in its self-appraisal as the nightmare it was).
Some of the stories are fabulous, but only about three or four of the twenty plus. One of “Distortions” (one of the sections) called Dwarf House delivers what it feels like to be a freak shut away with other freaks, but to fall in love and be the envy of normal people. The best things in life are free. A really good graphic artist turns out to be wise (surprise, surprise): “Bank’s lesson… Never look back. Don’t try to count your tail rings” he tells his teacher, a black sheep son who isolates himself upstairs from the rich family garden party, holding the interest of but never quite able to connect with the dazzling vaguely unhappy French sister-in-law. Nicely complicated, but always slogging in this defeated post-hippie zeitgeist.
The gay partner of her ex shares with former wife the fatal arrogant narcissism of her creative husband (he moves across the country and makes captivating probably false promises to the young daughter which, intuitive though we know she is, she swallows) whispers why he’s willing to toss up his career to follow the faker to San Francisco: “I love him”.
I can only characterize the faded bloom of the bulk of these many stories by recalling the failure and ennui of my awful arts university years, which the stories don’t escape. Look today at most of the “artists”, my contemporaries who stayed with their maturing, fading, post-hippie dream. Look at me, and the trouble it takes to fix the gaps I left way back then…
When Beattie’s good she’s great, but she bogs down often enough not to make it out of the dazedly self-absorbed morass compared, for example, to the wings and fleet feet of Alice Munro. 6.8