Thirty Days of Stories: Day Eight

Titles: [1] A Platonic Relationship; [2] Find and Replace

Author: Ann Beattie

Appears in: [1] Distortions [1976], [2] Follies [2005]; both found in The New Yorker Stories [2011]

Premise: [1] A recently divorced woman in her early thirties rents her house to an undergrad student and develops an intense friendship with him. [2] Following the death of her father, a woman travels to Florida to visit her mother, only to learn the older woman is preparing to shack up with a neighbour for no reason other than being ‘compatible.’

Thoughts: So, why two?  Because I love collected works editions, that’s why. My recent second-hand acquisition of Ann Beattie’s ‘The New  Yorker Stories,’ [which I admit I only bought for the typography of its cover] allows me to do with Beattie what I’ve done with Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel and others: read a career, especially the early stages, which is usually what I’m most concerned with, being a beginner myself. Beyond that, it’s a useful exercise to use books like this to see how an author’s voice develops, which is what struck me most about these two stories, the former written in 1974, the latter in 2001: the confidence and assuredness in Beattie’s prose is so much stronger in the newer story it’s almost jarring.

Not to say that A Platonic Relationship is a bad story, because it isn’t. But it reads as the story of a much younger writer.  There’s so much more life under the fingernails of Find and Replace…maybe the newer story struck more notes for me personally, being about the changing relationships of parents and children and such. APR had some distinct ‘been there, done that,’ elements at work, it felt like the 70’s frozen in amber, and it hadn’t aged especially well. FAR felt more vital to me and ultimately had more to say about age, family, change and the infinite allure of irresponsibility.

Lesson: Perhaps not returning to fiction until I was older was not the tragedy I thought it might have been. At least, not if you want to do literary fiction, anyway.

Favourite line: “What kind of writing?” he said, “Mysteries?”
“No. Stuff that really happens.”
“Don’t people get mad?” he said….
“People don’t recognize themselves. And, in case they might, you just program the computer to replace one name with another. So, in the final version, every time the word Mom comes up it’s replaced with Aunt Begonia or something.” 

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