Ann Beattie has published eight novels and ten collections of stories, among them Chilly Scenes of Winter, Falling in Place, The Burning House, Love Always, Picturing Will, and Another You. She was the Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Virginia (emerita). She is a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters and of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She and her husband, Lincoln Perry, live in Maine and Key West, Florida.
In her latest novel since Picturing Will (LJ 1/90), Beattie again explores the anxieties of the American middle class. Using a deliberately understated narrative voice, she presents the confused world of college professor Marshall Lockheed and his wife, Sonja. As Marshall ponders whether to tell Sonja about his complicated infatuation with a student, Sonja ponders the pros and cons of revealing her brief affair with her boss. Meanwhile, repercussions from their rather unexceptional indiscretions are about to plunge both Lockheeds into some very unusual territory. In the background are Marshall's dying stepmother, a woman with secrets of her own, and a collection of mysterious letters from the past with significant links to the present. Beattie's detached prose captures characters and events photographically: precise images are put forth for the reader to ponder without authorial analysis or elaboration. At its best, this technique stimulates thought and imagination, but it will not appeal to all readers. Nevertheless, this is essential where Beattie's work is admired. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/95.]‘Starr E. Smith, Marymount Univ., Arlington, Va.
Successfully avoiding the one-note, affectless deadpan to which her work was in danger of succumbing, Beattie provides plenty of dramatic tension in this absorbing narrative of a man emotionally distanced from his life. Marshall Lockard, youngish professor at a small New England college, is a peevish, condescending loner; his career is at a dead end and his marriage to Sonja is passionless. When he impulsively stops his car to pick up an attractive student, he has a vague idea of starting an affair with her. But the story Cheryl tells him‘that her roommate says she's been abused and raped by Jack McCallum, a colleague of Marshall's in the English department‘gradually enmeshes Marshall in McCallum's very messy life. Seeing echoes of his own personality in McCallum's passive sadness, Marshall begins slowly to acknowledge the complexities of his life, including the harmful effects of his father's bullying and his mother's early death. Meanwhile, the reader has been puzzling over a series of undated letters interspersed throughout the narrative; written to a woman called Martine (whose identity, when it is finally revealed on a tombstone, brings past and present together), they are penned by an obviously cold, arrogant, manipulative man who signs only his initial. Eventually, the letters hold a clue to Marshall's emotionally crippled personality. Though this novel has a few maladroit episodes (e.g., the true identity of Cheryl's roommate is gratuitously melodramatic), Beattie's writing has a new immediacy and intensity. The enduring effects of childhood trauma, which she explored in her previous novel, Picturing Will, are here conveyed with wit, irony and compassion. (Sept.)