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Ann Beattie - Biography

Ann Beattie (1947 - )
by Karen Bernardo

Ann Beattie has been compared in many ways to John Updike and John Cheever because of her suburban settings and her representations of the interior workings of upper-middle-class American life. However, while Updike and Cheever write eloquently about order, Beattie writes about disorder -- a world in chaos.

For example, in her short story "The Burning House," we have a group of family and friends whose amiable relationships are built on an intricate web of secrecy, of things they cannot come right out and say. Their lives are lived behind closed doors, under the covers, out of earshot, in innuendo. In "Snow," the narrator has spent one winter with in a country house with a lover, and in retrospect she comes to feel this is the most significant time of her life, short as it was; this realization is expressed metaphorically through the frozen ground and snow, a period of the year when recognizable life is dormant and apparent death is the rule of the day. Yet this death -- or what other people consider to be death -- was the most magnificent part of the narrator's life, and one she remembers with a poignant longing. We do not have a sense that Beattie is trying to forge order out of this chaos; she simply accepts things the way they are and chronicles them as such.

Ann Beattie's stories are ironic and pessimistic. There isn't a strong sense of Providence here; we do not feel the presence of a loving God, or, for that matter, any God at all. Her characters seem to be people completely on their own in a universe that couldn't care less. What meaning Beattie manages to forge out of life is a profoundly human meaning. Overall it is sad; sometimes it is permeated by a dry, ironic humor. But at all times her prose is spare; her themes more defined by what is left out than by what is actually said; and -- whether the reader likes it or not -- the tenor of Beattie's stories perfectly captures the spirit of America in the last three decades.

Read Storybites' analysis of...

The Burning House


"The Burning House" can be found in the collection of the same name.

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"Snow" can be found in the collection "Where You'll Find Me and Other Stories."

It is available in paperback from Amazon here: