Thursday, May 17, 2012

I started reading Ann Beattie's short story collection 'Perfect Recall' for a few reasons, firstly because I realised that I have read hardly any books by female authors so I have been trying to read more, and secondly because Ann Beattie is often cited alongside Raymond Carver as being one of the leading authors in humanistic short stories, since Raymond Carver is one of my favourite authors I thought I should give some of his contemporaries a shot. I wanted to read her collection 'Distortions' because it is her most acclaimed work, but neither Vic nor Wellington Public Library had a copy of it so I took the first collection of her short stories I found on the shelf. Perfect Recall was published in 2001, twenty years after Distortions was published.

The stories in Perfect Recall were split into two types, some were set in the Northeastern states, in New England/New York area and some were set in the Florida Keys. The ones set in the Northeastern states tended to be about relationships between people, some of them falling apart, some of them barely holding on but in general they were positive stories, the ones set in the Florida Keys were mostly about lack of relationships, or relationships not working, or people that were so tired of being in relationships they cut themselves off from the world. I've only ever read one other book set in Florida, 'Tracer' by Frederick Barthelme, and I think my interpretation of that novel/the vibe of Florida left an impression on me that made me think of Ann Beattie's stories set in Florida the way I did. The last story in the collection 'The Famous Poet, Amid Bougaineville' kind of flipped the idea I had on its head by having the two main characters really have a beautiful humanistic relationship, but they were both very sick which brings up other ideas into it.

My favourite part of the book was in the story 'Perfect Recall' when after a car crash one of the first person on the scene was shocked that the people in the car that crashed were listening to the same song she was.

I enjoyed Perfect Recall overall but there were some parts to it which made me feel Ann Beattie was a bit out of her depth, I can't remember many specifics but there were just a few sentences here and there which pulled me out of the story and made me more aware of her being the author, I think this can happen to authors after years of writing in a consistent style as the world changes around them. One example which I'm not sure is a case of this or if it is something else that made me feel a bit weird was the minor character Lisa in 'The Famous Poet, Amid Bougaineville', being a minor character in a short story she was not very fleshed out, and one of the only details given about her was that she was a lesbian (or at least had a girlfriend), that in itself isn't a big deal (two of the other characters in this story were gay) but it seemed unnecessary to include it as it had no impact on how her character acted or anything she did. It felt to me like it was more of Ann Beattie asserting a liberal persona she is trying to be as an author by making this character gay. Also she badmouthed the Smashing Pumpkins in an earlier story WTF.

Today I listened to: A Silver Mt Zion, Shocking Pinks, The Stooges, Leonard Cohen, Look Blue Go Purple, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.

Today I read: a couple of essays by Raymond Carver from his collection of previously uncollected work, including one On Writing and a really awesome one on his father.

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