Chronicling the Age of Aquarius survivors. Ann Beattie discusses latest novel, a satire of hippies-cum-Yuppies
Acknowledged mistress of the cool, elegant -- don't forget clever -- prose, Ann Beattie is also a prankster. But you've got to be clever yourself to figure this out. Got to be quick to spot those sly little references to her past fiction in her current fiction. Or catch the nameplate on her friend's chic South End brownstone that is the same name as a (minor) character in her latest novel, ``Love Always.'' Ms. Beattie likes to put over a fast one to see who catches on. It's all part of a studied but casual literary modus operandi -- ``If writing wasn't fun I couldn't do it'' -- by this author, who has cut her career as one of the first chroniclers of the post-1960s generation. Beattie's six books -- ``Love Always'' is her third novel (the others are short-story collections) -- have been greeted as graceful if facile bulletins about the survivors of the Age of Aquarius.Skip to next paragraph
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In an age now teeming with minimalist writers, whose deadpan, d'egag'e prose proclaims reality not in a larger truth but in small, concrete sensations, Beattie still stands as the first.
It is not a label with which she concurs. ``I never did buy the media hype on myself. I just didn't,'' she says, shaking that triangular mane of hair that has become as much her signature as the flat, hip prose. ``What I'm writing about are the complicated things, the things I don't have answers for,'' she says.
In the decade or so she has been writing -- nearly all her work appears first in The New Yorker magazine -- Beattie has earned praise for her eye for detail and ear for dialogue. But she has been criticized for writing emotionally distant, icy prose. Her characters are notorious for being as aloof and bemused as their author.
Now, ``Love Always,'' Beattie's most comic -- indeed her first satiric -- work to date, is receiving mixed reviews. A tale of some hippies-cum-Yuppies who go rural chic in Vermont by running a countercultural magazine called Country Daze, ``Love Always'' has been faulted for its lack of ``passionately felt concerns.'' But it is mainly the novel's satiric tone that is arching critics' eyebrows. Beattie is accustomed to confronting her generation from a position of stoic detachment. But the satire of ``Lo ve Always'' inches her dangerously close to a literary cul-de-sac -- the satirist satirizing himself.
But Beattie is not easily cowed. ``I don't think I can write something that says, `It comes down to this,' '' she says. ``That just doesn't interest me. I don't think that's the purpose of fiction.''
What does interest Beattie, who unabashedly describes herself as ``a child of my time,'' is indeed her own generation. Curled up on her friend's couch during a recent publicity tour -- or as curled up as one can be in miniskirt, high heels, and pointy fuchsia fingernails -- Beattie looks much like her own characters might look: members of the post-Vietnam generation struggling to maintain their laid-back hipness in an era now defined by Yuppies and Madonna. ``The '60s at the time seemed a bit flashier a nd tended to have a bit more promise than this new conformity,'' she says.