Ann Beattie has been in the American canon a while now. Known by readers as a technician of sharp, terse, matter-of-fact prose, her works maintain a clarity of voice that is distinctly her own. In the 1970s, her short stories began appearing in The Atlantic, Ninth Letter, and, notable here, The New Yorker, which this week published a piece of Mrs. Beattie’s, entitled “Major Maybe”.
“Major Maybe” takes place in lower Manhattan in the 1980’s, a time when tenement housing had not yet been eradicated and replaced with glass high-rises; it was still somewhat possible to be poor in New York. The story involves two roommates sharing a cramped apartment, a basement-dwelling psychologist, a redheaded lunatic, and one unfortunate dog.
In other words, this is an ode to daily life in the big city.
It becomes evident early in the story that the author is familiar with the time and place here portrayed. There is an element of nostalgia for something no longer with us – a very particular atmosphere – and the reader is keen to it; even feels slightly involved with it.
“Major Maybe” exists in a place of memory, and for this, no words seem wasted. In fact, they seem accurate.
For those unfamiliar with Ann Beattie, this story is a great place to start. She is one of the most prolific writers of our day and is currently a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters and of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Her novels include Chilly Scenes of Winter (1976), What Was Mine (1991), and Mrs Nixon: A Novelist Imagines A Life (2011). Her short story collections include Park City (1998) and, most recently, The New Yorker Stories (2011). She will also be gracing the stage with WordTheatre on September 20 at the Microsoft Lounge (901 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Suite A, Venice, CA, 90291 – 11:30 am – 3:00 pm) as we present her prose.