Ann Beattie Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ann Beattie is said to be nonjudgmental about her characters. Does this detachment makes her characters more or less realistic and complex?

How does Beattie create ironic distance between her narrators and the characters and events being described?

Show how Beattie’s treatment of the struggle for happiness differs in two of her short stories.

How does “Dwarf House” question the idea of normality?

How is driving a metaphor for the complexities of life in “Shifting”?

Is Falling in Place only the story of a dysfunctional family or does it say something about such themes as individuality and responsibility?

What does Picturing Will seem to be saying about the nature of parenthood?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

While Ann Beattie’s reputation rests primarily on her short stories, particularly those that first appeared in The New Yorker, she has also written several novels. The first, Chilly Scenes of Winter (1976), appeared simultaneously with Distortions, a rare occurrence in the publishing world, especially for a first-time author. Her second novel, Falling in Place (1980), is her most ambitious and her best. In Love Always (1985), she uses an approach that is closer to that of her short stories than in either of the previous novels. The subject matter is narrower, and the characters are more distanced from the narrative voice. Her novel Picturing Will was published in 1989. In 1986 and 1987, she worked on her first nonfiction project, the text to accompany a monograph containing twenty-six color plates of the paintings of Alex Katz. Her last novel, My Life, Starring Dara Falcon (1997), has been scorned as her weakest yet; The New York Times called it an “ill-conceived experiment” that “must surely mark a low point” in her career.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ann Beattie has been called the most imitated short-story writer in the United States, an amazing claim for a woman whose publishing career began in the early 1970’s. Along with such writers as Raymond Carver, she is a premier practitioner of minimalism, the school of fiction-writing that John Barth has characterized as the “less is more” school. In 1977, she was named Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in English at Harvard, where she was apparently uncomfortable. She used a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation grant to leave Harvard and move back to Connecticut, where she had attended graduate school. In 1980, she received an award of excellence from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Distinguished Alumnae award from American University. In 1992, she was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to her novels, Ann Beattie (BEE-tee) has published nonfiction as well as numerous volumes of short stories, including Distortions (1976), The Burning House (1982), What Was Mine, and Other Stories (1991), and Follies: New Stories (2005). She has also published two children’s books: Goblin Tales (1975) and Spectacle (1985).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Hailed by many as the spokesperson for her generation, Ann Beattie has won numerous awards for her novels and short stories focusing on vapid, upper-middle-class characters. Along with several scholastic honors, Beattie has received a literary award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Distinguished Alumnae Award from American University, and the PEN/Bernard Malamud Award. A member of the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN) and of the Authors Guild, in 1992 she was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Aldridge, John. “Less Is a Lot Less (Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Amy Hempel, Frederick Barthelme).” In Talents and Technicians. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1992.

Atwood, Margaret. “Stories from the American Front.” The New York Times Book Review, September 26, 1982, 1, 34. Discusses The Burning House as it represents the loss of the American dream for the children of the 1960’s. For Beattie, freedom equals the chance to take off, run away, split. Beattie’s stories chronicle domesticity gone awry, where there are dangers and threats lurking beneath the surface of even the most mundane events. Observes that most of the stories in this collection concern couples in the process of separating.

Barth, John. “A Few Words About Minimalism.” The New York Times Book Review, December 28, 1986, 1, 2, 25. Explores Beattie’s spare style and considers her fiction as it represents a current stylistic trend in the American short story. Spends a considerable amount of space describing the origins of the contemporary minimalist movement in American short fiction. Sees this form as a nonverbal statement about theme: the spareness of life in America. Places Beattie’s work among that of other minimalists, including Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, James Robison, Mary Robison, and Tobias Wolff. Discusses Edgar Allan Poe as an early proponent of minimalism. Says that Beattie’s fiction is clearly shaped by the events surrounding the Vietnam War. A helpful essay for gaining an understanding of Beattie as a minimalist.

Beattie, Ann. “An Interview with Ann Beattie.” Interview by Steven R. Centola. Contemporary Literature 31 (Winter, 1990): 405-422. Provides biographical information and background on Beattie’s fiction. Beattie discusses herself as a feminist writer and how she goes about creating credible male protagonists. Discusses Falling in Place, Love Always, Chilly Scenes of Winter, and Picturing Will.

Berman, Jaye, ed. The Critical Response to Ann Beattie. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. Includes contemporary reaction to Beattie’s novels and collections of short stories, as well as scholarly and academic analyses of her work by various critics.

Gelfant, Blanche H. “Ann Beattie’s Magic Slate: Or, The End of the Sixties.” New England Review 1 (1979): 374-384. Examines Beattie’s short stories as reflecting the concerns of adults who came of age during the hippie years. Discusses Beattie’s desolate landscapes and the pervading sense of doom found in much of her fiction. Focuses on Secrets and Surprises and Distortions, saying that they are a requiem for the freedom...

(The entire section is 1179 words.)