A Profileby Lacy Crawford
Ann Beattie’s home in York, Maine, is a constant work in progress. Across the nearly twenty years she and her husband have summered here, they have replaced every beam and surface, painting the outside rich autumnal colors—sage, maize, red—and hanging the interior with original art and prints, the most recent of which is a beautiful black-and-white Curt Richter photograph of a woman’s forearm. The elbow rests on a table, and the hand is poised with folded wrist and delicate fingers, holding a songbird upside down by its tail feathers. The bird’s wings are folded; its eyes are half-closed. “What I love is that you don’t know,” Beattie says. “The bird could be dead. Or maybe we’re just seeing an instant when it was still.”
The ambiguity of the moment fascinates Beattie. For three decades her fiction has explored her generation’s complex relationship to time. In the mid-1970s, Beattie’s debut short stories mirrored the impatience and ambivalence of former hippies both enticed and stymied by adulthood. Her characters’ often charming refusal to face the music of their lives made them instantly recognizable and irresistible to baby-boomer readers. Beattie instinctively understood the quantum sensibility of the 1960s—its deceptive promise of unending possibility—and her work formed itself around the costly illusion of immortality. In seven novels and eight story collections, Beattie has tracked the romance of American culture as it falters and gives way to the unpredictable landscape of experience.