Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Beattie tells the story of Andrea and her fixation on the ceramic bowl in an objective, detached way. There is little plot; the reader is shown a glimpse of a time during which Andrea’s obsession grows. Details about the bowl, the day-to-day stimuli in Andrea’s life, and her state of mind are given profusely and objectively, in a flat tone. Beattie does not suggest how one should react to Andrea’s plight, but simply puts it forth. The story ends without resolution. The reader has more awareness of the relationship between the bowl and Andrea’s loveless life, between her past choices and her present condition, than Andrea herself does.

The drama in the story is predominantly psychological. The reader is told that Andrea dreams about the bowl, that she has a deep connection with it, that it is a mystery to her, and that she loves it. She focuses her life around it, centering all of her sales strategies on the bowl and refusing to talk to her husband about it, concealing from him details about her use of the bowl and thus about her life at work, and therefore shutting him out of her life even more than she had done in the earlier years of their loveless marriage. At the end, Beattie describes the bowl just as she depicts Andrea: “still, safe, and unilluminated.” Beattie provokes a certain amount of horror in her reader by suggesting a life with so little self-knowledge.