What Was Mine

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although most of the twelve stories in this new Beattie collection emphasize the frequently fragile relationships of married couples, what makes the pieces more than merely conventional is that the crises that develop are usually reflected in someone outside the relationship. Beattie is not interested here in something so common as adultery, but rather the subtle conflicts couples are made to confront when they experience a shock of recognition in someone else.

Such a confrontation takes on a whimsical tone in “The Longest Day of the Year” when a woman whose marriage is on the verge of collapse spends an afternoon listening to the seriocomic plight of the Welcome Wagon lady. It is given an absurdist twist in “Home to Marie,” in which a wife prepares for an elaborate dinner party and then packs up her suitcase and leaves her husband waiting, as he has often left her; the story ends lyrically when the caterer comes over and, in discussing her own relationship, makes it possible for the husband to reach an awareness of his marital failures.

This recognition theme achieves its most poignant level in the two longest stories in the collection, “You Know What,” in which a man is made to reflect on his marriage when he discovers the secret life of his daughter’s teacher just after the woman’s death, and “Windy Day at the Reservoir,” in which a couple uncover their own marital conflicts when they house-sit for, and thus sit in on the life of, another couple.

A skilled short-story writer, Beattie gives ordinary events a subtle symbolic slant and thus communicates nuances beneath the surface of everyday reality.

Sources for Further Study

America. CLXV, October 12, 1991, p. 253.

Booklist. LXXXVII, January 15, 1991, p. 978.

Chicago Tribune. May 5, 1991, XIV, p. 5.

Library Journal. CXVI, April 15, 1991, p. 123.

Los Angeles Times. May 2, 1991, p. E7.

The New York Review of Books. XXXVIII, August 15, 1991, p. 9.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, May 26, 1991, p. 3.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, March 15, 1991, p. 44.

The Wall Street Journal. April 29, 1991, p. A12.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, May 12, 1991, p. 8.