Themes and Meanings
Collected in Distortions (1976), this story offers an angle of that theme, presenting a young woman about whom the reader actually knows very little except that she feels as trapped in her life as the old man for whom she cares. However, whereas he can name some of the distortions to which he has resorted in an effort to manipulate those around him, the protagonist cannot even define the conditions that cause her malaise. Like many of Beattie’s characters, she seems to have no interests that define her; she comes to the reader as a collection of perceptions and impressions, so uncertain as to be incapable of anger or of confronting the possibility of getting angry. Her inability to admit her emotions even to herself also means an inability to communicate them to anyone else.
The progression of events in the story, however, implies change. The mystery of David’s whereabouts preoccupies her more and more, and as the tension builds, the reader is encouraged by the story’s recurrences to wonder if confrontation and/or resolution will result. During the story, the protagonist has come to recognize what tentative knowledge she possesses about her husband. From what she hears about loneliness and powerlessness from the old man, she is invited to see the possibilities of loneliness and powerlessness in her own life. The old man’s postcards and photograph album provide him with a refuge of sorts, but the image of Rip Van Winkle takes on a cruelly ironic quality when the...
(The entire section is 609 words.)