Ann Beattie's Follies is a superb novella and collection of stories about adult children, aging parents, and the chance encounters that irrevocably alter lives. Beattie, winner of four O. Henry prizes, has been called "one of our era's most vital masters of the short form" (The Washington Post Book World). She is a masterful observer of domestic relations and the idiosyncratic logic that governs human lives.
In Follies, her most resonant collection, she looks at baby boomers in their maturity, sorting out their own lives and struggling with parents who are eccentric, unpredictable, and increasingly dependent. In "Fléchette Follies," a man rear-ends a woman at a stoplight, and the ripple effect of that encounter is vast and catastrophic. In "Apology for a Journey Not Taken," a woman's road trip is perpetually postponed by the UPS deliveryman who wants to watch TV in her house, by the girl next door who has lost her dog, and by the death of her friend in a freak accident. Impatient in his old age, the protagonist of "That Last Odd Day in L.A." can hardly manage a pleasant word to his own daughter, but he finds a chance for redemption on the last day of a vacation he spends with his niece and nephew.
Ann Beattie is at the top of her form in this superb collection, writing with the vividness, compassion, and sometimes morbid wit that have made her one of the most influential writers of her generation.
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May 02, 2005
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Excerpt from Follies by Ann Beattie
Linda turned left, into a housing development with a waterfall to one side, above which rose a sign: Beechwood Village. Underneath it, someone had spray-painted on the rocks: sucks shit. "We weren't able to have children because of treatments Rich had for an illness, long ago. We should adopt, you'd think. But I've never felt like doing that. If it's God's will that we can't have children, maybe we should honor that. Not that it wouldn't be a great idea and all that, but I just don't really...the thing is, I've sort of said to Sister Mary Matthew that we'd do it, one day, but I really think it's enough that Rich gets the children out. There are families waiting for them. I mean, lists of families. It's just not something Rich and I ever talked seriously about doing, even though Mary sort of thinks it is. You know what I mean "
"You mean she assumes it's going to happen, and it isn't," Paula said.
"Exactly!" Linda said. She pulled into the driveway of a big house and touched a button on her visor. The garage door began to rise. "I mean, we let her think it, because she couldn't imagine not thinking it. You know what I mean "
She knew, and had known since childhood: she meant that the course of least possible pain was to let somebody retain his view of how things were, even though you knew otherwise.
Father Ambrose raised a champagne flute. "In the thirteenth century," he began, "Saint Francis was blessed and privileged to live in times of compelling significance. Today, in times whose complexities we may dread, and in an age that may lack so many qualities we identify with Christian charity" -- he drank most of his champagne -- "with Christian charity," he repeated. "But, like Francis, there are always those individuals who stand apart and distinguish themselves from others not through any feeling of superiority, but because they understand that they have been called. The message received may be humble. It need not be the case, as it was with Francis, who saw around him the disorder of the state and the paucity of honorable examples and felt compelled to take a stand. One's being selected can come not as an epiphany, but begin as an enigmatic question, a thing confusing rather than enlightening." A man stepped forward and poured more champagne into the empty glass. "Thank you," Father Ambrose said. "As a longtime friend of the groom, I am here today to say that one must act according to one's conscience, which may mean..."