My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Although Ann Beattie's characters have aged, their world is still recognizable even if their faces and bodies have changed. Many now can afford luxuries, like a showerhead "which approximated a rainstorm that would fall with enough force to blind frogs." Some live in assisted living facilities, petting dogs brought by well-meaning volunteers. If they still live at home, their garden paths are aglow with "solar spotlights allowing the stamens of flowers to puncture the night like so many silent tongues."
One thing that has not changed: most characters are distinguished by the things they still carry, and the references they learned when they were young. Dr. T. D. Eckleburg makes an appearance at a party celebrating Bernie Madoff's sentencing, and when characters dance, the music is not new.
One other thing these characters have in common: they all want to retain control and to shape the narration of the rest of their lives. The reader sometimes listens in as a character relates his or her own actions, blurring the authorial line between showing and telling. Even a dog, whose ears "looked like someone had given up while folding origami," tells us about his view of the lifelong search for love.
Not all of these character-driven stories hold together in the longer form they are given. Maybe Ms. Beattie means for us to lose patience with some. Some characters, though, open themselves to live in old age with people they might not have noticed before, sometimes literally. Those make the reader cheer, and cheer up.
Ms. Beattie's writing is a bit less sparse than it once was, but no less wry or sharp. The details still matter -- the boots, the music, the wine. One looks at people disappearing up a flight of stairs, perhaps "to the roof, from which they'd take flight and clutter the night sky, for all she knew." The reader doesn't know either, but she has met them, and they are real.
Highly recommended. I received this book as an electronic ARC from Net Galley.
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