by Ann Beattie
Granta 118: Exit Strategies

(ISBN 978-1-90588-155-0)

I must have tempted fate in my last blog post:

Unusually for a piece in Granta, Anecdotes was a let-down.

It is probably more accurate to say that I let the author down; that is to say I was more than likely just an unappreciative audience. A more perceptive reader might have picked up on whatever meaning Beattie was portraying, I didn’t*, and the piece left me feeling like I’d missed something. I’m not slating writing for the sake of writing. By no means does a piece of writing necesarilly need to convey an idea – the first time I finished Franny and Zooey I was completely unaware of any significance, but I loved it for its literary finesse. Unfortunately Anecdotes, for me, couldn’t rely on any finesse. This lack is demonstrated when the narrator realises her friend’s hair is not wet because it “must have started raining” but in fact because her “dryer broke”. A tiny, tiny twist like this in a larger novel wouldn’t matter, it would go unnoticed, but in a twelve-page story it felt pointless, and i found myself sarcastically thinking ooooh, how clever!.

Ahh…who on earth is sarcastic towards a book?

Ahem! To distract, a more pertinent question: who on earth self-references themselves as a”funny” and good writer” in their own pen?

Apparently, Ann Beattie does. To be fair, in Anecdotes, she is called Anna, but she is a writer, she lives in New York (until recently), she writes for the New York Times, and she does…well…the list of similarities isn’t massive, but I felt Ann/Anna were the same. It’s not a problem, except that the narrator is heavily critical of every other character she describes, even a whole generation at one point; “like many women her age, she diverted attention form her face“. I found it all a bit awkward, and I wouldn’t have if the narrator had at least been a bit more disguised.

An anecdote is defined as ‘a short account of an interesting or amusing story’. Anecdotes felt like a short account of Beattie’s time in New York, it just wasn’t very amusing or interesting, but maybe here lies some more self-reference? If it is, there is a lot that maybe read in to; the discussion between the Narrator and Lucia about  Margaret Bourke-Wight’s anecdotal “saddness in her life” could be seen as an extended metaphor reflecting the entire short story. If it is, which is a blind theory, I don’t think it’s worth it – it limits the enjoyment to those willing to over-analyse (and I’ve only done it because I wanted to write about it).

I should make my stance clear; Beattie is a talented writer, I wish I could write even half a page as well as she writes twelve. It is a matter of expectations though, and my expectations were high, this was in Granta after all, and Beattie has been compared to J.D. Sallinger, so for me it fell slightly below par.

Well, that’s the last time I say I’ve never read something I haven’t enjoyed.


Nick x

*maybe I did, is it a lesbian trying to “come out and play“?