The reader who approaches Ann Beattie’s short stories with the intention of trying to find out what they “mean” is in for frustration and disappointment. Beattie has been harshly criticized for writing pieces that are pointless, meaningless, and in fact not even stories at all but merely “vignettes.” She has not defended her position but has gone on writing in the same style that has made her the most discussed, the most loved, and the most hated short-story writer in the United States. Her readers, however, find that Beattie is expressing feeling with which they are painfully familiar.
The mood induced by a typical Beattie story is similar to those produced by some of the early films of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman; T. S. Eliot’s most famous poem, “The Waste Land” (1922); Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot (1954); George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984 (1949); the conclusion to James Joyce’s famous short story “The Dead” (1914); or George Meredith’s collection of short poems Modern Love (1862).
Critics who are hostile to minimalism try to explain its popularity as a result “of the greatly shortened attention span of the generation of readers brought up on television,” to quote critic John W. Aldridge. It could be argued that the popularity of minimalism is a result of the greater sophistication of a generation of readers who have been exposed from earliest childhood to a glut of media input. It is worth noting that modern readers continue to read older writers such as Jane Austen and...
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