Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On "The Burning House" by Ann Beattie **

I've read a story or two by Beattie in the past, but for someone so prolific and respected, she's one that somehow I never was drawn to read more of--at least not immediately. I would get to her, eventually. And now I have. And unfortunately I still don't find myself drawn to her writing that much. She has a simple style that should make for easy reading, but as I find much of Bobbie Anne Mason's work, so find I Beattie's: I'm just not that interested. The stories are about mundane things mostly, which is fine, but I need either something odd--burningly strange language or, even better, little odd events that somehow sneak into the mundane, that make those stories memorable individually rather than becoming just one big run-in of sameness. I think those little odd moments are what ultimately keeps me enchanted by Raymond Carver.

The best stories in this collection of Beattie's seemed the longer ones, where the characters had time to work into my being in a way, make me take notice of them and their world despite how little was going on. One of these pieces was "Winter: 1978." In it, a couple spend time with a friend while in town to sell some artwork; during the visit, they meet up with family--an ex-wife, and learn a few things about relationships gone awry.

In fact, relationships gone awry seem to be a major theme throughout the collection. In "The Cinderella Waltz," a woman carries on a half-relationship with her ex-husband's new gay lover. Both seem to understand how selfish the ex-husband is, and yet both on some level still want the man. My favorite story in the collection is "Like Glass," a very short piece that works its metaphorical connection to the title very well. But unfortunately, few of the other stories stand out in my mind.

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