Style and Technique
Beattie’s style is often compared to those of Raymond Carver, Ernest Hemingway, J. D. Salinger, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. She resembles these writers in having the skill to represent the consciousness of a generation (in her case, Americans who came of age in the 1960’s) and of a certain milieu (the middle class, educated, and urbane). The sparseness of her style connects her to the postmodernist movement in literature, and her neorealist focus on the inner psyches of her characters and the morass of human relationships links her to social realism.
Like the characters of the authors to whom she has been compared, Beattie’s characters come from a lost generation. Usually well provided for materially, they have private lives in which intimacy is often difficult or in which they feel cut off from others. The angst of Beattie’s characters is conveyed in a minimalist style in which the writing is tight and intricate and images are highly evocative or symbolic.
Beattie’s finely crafted stories are as significant for what is left out as for what is expressed on the page. Accounts are studded with silences and spaces in time and detail, in which much is left unsaid or unexplained. In “Snow,” for example, readers do not know the characters’ names or ages, or the specific place or time in which they live. In other Beattie stories, characters sometimes relate in such an intimate manner that they communicate motivation and understanding without any explicit outward statement.
The flat, sometimes monotonal, controlled style or voice Beattie uses functions to give acute tension to her stories. Her narrators or protagonists, like the one in “Snow,” are often people barely maintaining control or emotional and psychological balance in situations that threaten chaos, wherein tragedy has struck, or in which things that once were harmonious have fallen apart. They are like people in shock, suffering not from a lack of feeling, but from too much feeling. Beattie uses a hard-boiled style in which very subjective, sometimes painful or disturbing events are conveyed in a seemingly objective and dispassionate fashion, evoking an emotional reaction from the reader that is suppressed in the stories’ protagonists.
“Snow” is sparse, evocative, and dense with meaning, like a haiku. Everything is distilled down to the most essential images, to memories of the moments and...
(The entire section is 988 words.)