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Park City : new and selected stories /
by Ann Beattie.
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
477 p. ; 25 cm.
More Details
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
catalogue key
A Look Inside
This item was nominated for the following awards:
New York Times Notable Books of the Year, USA, 1998 : Won
First Chapter

Chapter One


Jason is the first to run onto the patio. He takes the side steps and bangs on the French doors, and Carl and I follow grudgingly. We would have preferred the front walkway, but as we have done so many times, we sigh and follow Jason's lead. And there stands Grand-Mam, delighted to see the person she calls "my favorite boy in all the world," no matter which way--or with what war whoops--he has approached the house. In the cement flower urns, cosmos are still blooming in mid-November. Some of the leaves are still on the trees, too, and the Japanese maple is the deep rose-brown of dried blood.

    Grand-Mam's dining room is cluttered with things she has bought for us at her neighbor's house sale: rattan chairs; a twin-bed frame; a fireplace screen and andirons; a rolled rug that I think I remember as being too wildly geometric. Jason runs the obstacle course into the kitchen, to get the freshly baked gingerbread squares he heard about on the phone. Estelle--Grand-Mam--calls hello to us over her shoulder. She is on the run, trying to catch Jason so she can tie his shoestring. Jason's shoes don't just come untied; they seem to sprout octopus tentacles, because he prefers his shoelaces extra long. He is very particular about his clothes. He won't wear anything bright. He won't wear knit shirts, or knit anything. He will never wear a raincoat, regardless of how hard it is raining, so Carl sprays his jackets to weatherproof them. He wears a baseball cap turned backward, but forget keeping his ears warm: the brighter they are, the more Jason swears they're--as he calls them--"room temperature." He also insists he is room temperature when he has a fever. He had one two days ago, and I thought for sure we wouldn't be making this trip, but just as the doctor's nurse predicted: it zoomed up like a strongman's mallet hitting the weight to ring the bell, then subsided with the first dose of Tylenol.

    Grand-Mam is no one's grandmother. She did raise Carl, though, after his parents died in the crash of a single-engine plane in Alaska. She was the next-door neighbor, and since there were only tenuous next of kin, she stepped in. By all accounts, she was happy to inherit a ten-year-old boy. This amazes me, since Jason is eight and I cringe to imagine the intensity of his desires and declarations when he is two years older. When I was eight, my parents had my sister, Marge, and overnight my own disposition changed; frantic for attention, I had Jasonesque energy, but instead of running everywhere, I went on talking jags. To this day, my mother is even wary of talking to me on the phone, in case I might start monologuing again, and prefers to write letters. I know they are disappointed that, for the second time, I am living with a man I haven't married. It's not that I'm opposed to marriage, but men now seem to want to observe the women they're considering with the focus of scientists squinting at slides under a microscope. I was judged unworthy of one boyfriend because I didn't carry a spare tire or a jack in my trunk. For a while, I almost wavered out of Carl's affections because I drank what he called "girl's drinks": brandy Alexanders and mimosas. I had it out with Carl, pointing out his own deficiencies--for example, that he gripped his beer bottles as if they were grenades he intended to throw--which actually resulted in his grudging respect. According to Carl, he likes women who show gumption. I have lived happily with Carl since Jason was seven. If I decide to give Jason a brother or sister, Carl has said he will marry me. If not, he doesn't see the point. Carl considers this pragmatic. All I can say is that pragmatism is not a quality Carl mentioned in the personal ad I responded to. I have taken to calling him "Fickle Fellow" instead of "Charismatic Carpenter."

    By the time I get to the kitchen, there are squares of gingerbread on four plates, and Jason is reaching, with gooey fingers, for another piece. As always, he has removed the napkin from the table, put it on his lap, then brushed it to the floor.

    "I had to fire Nonette," Estelle whispers to me. "The money was gone from the green vase." She nods at the vase next to the stove, which holds yellow chrysanthemums. It looks very pretty--much more festive than the Ball jar I pour grease into that sits next to our stove.

    "Carl, I hate to tell you this after all the work you did, but I'm afraid the squirrels are back in the attic," Estelle says.

    "Let me at 'em," Jason says. "I can karate chop 'em." He pushes his chair back so he can demonstrate a kick, seated. He turns so he is seated on one hip; several times, his left leg flies up, rising higher than you might expect. On the third kick, his foot brushes the edge of the table and everything shakes. "Earthquaaaake!" Jason screams. His whole body trembles, as if the shock waves are going to shake him to death. "I'm sorry!" he says, grabbing the edge as the table tips. There is a landslide of plates and glasses, silverware, stacked newspapers. Jason looks horrified. Across from him, Carl is white-faced, trying to stabilize the table.

    "Oh, it was an accident," Estelle says. Something else is toppled in the living room, but whatever it is falls with a simple, dull thump. The safety glass on the French doors stops them from shattering as Jason flings one open and runs from the house.

    "Things happen in threes," Estelle says. "First the maid steals my petty cash, then the squirrels burrow back in, and then poor Jason has an accident with this silly table."

    "What exactly is it that makes the table silly?" Carl says. Since the tornado has whirled through, Carl has decided to take out his hostility, inappropriately, on what remains standing. It's not me, because I'm on all fours, carefully picking up what isn't broken. Charismatic Carpenter, looking for long-term commitment, likes canoeing, candlelight dinners, and cozy evenings by the fire. What a joke. Carl turns out to be a big Bruce Lee fan, which is what he watches on the VCR while too-wet wood smolders in the fireplace. Candlelight dinners, maybe, if his son hasn't made creative use of the candle holders, and if I cook the dinner. And the canoeing--the canoe fell off the top carrier of his friend Alex's car and what was left might as well have been driftwood. Alex: the same joker who wrote the touchy-feely ad Carl put in the Washingtonian: the bait I took, letting him reel me in with promises of glowing candles and gliding boats.

    "You get back here, Jason," Carl hollers, staring at the door. Leaves blow in. A strong wind sends bright pink cosmos with the leaves--the flowers Jason apparently uprooted on his way out the door.

    "Oh, Carl--" Estelle says.

    "Little bastard," Carl says.

    "Carl, you must not use that language around him," Estelle says.

    Carl expresses his frustration by mocking a frustrated person: for a few seconds he pantomimes a gorilla; then his face subsides into a bad actor's tortured Hamlet. By the time he has walked into the living room, Estelle is smiling at his antics. He takes her in his arms and dances one perfect box step.

    Unbeknownst to us, Jason has stolen the neighbor boy's bike and is using it as an all-terrain vehicle in the woods behind the house. It will later cost Carl forty dollars--as much as it would cost to buy another similar piece of junk, according to Carl--to have the metal on the bent fender banged out and repainted.

    "It's such a delight to see you," Estelle says, curtsying after her dance. "I hope you don't think I'd ever mind anything Jason did, because he is my very favorite boy in all the world, you know."

    "That monster is what replaced me in your affections?" Carl says.

    "Oh, Carl, no one is replaced. . . ."

    Meanwhile, the looming tree; the wheels skidding on wet leaves; the crash; the young boy toppled, though he will walk away with only a bruise. He might even flash the trees the victory sign.

My students at Benjamin Franklin Junior High pay little attention to their lessons but suffer exquisitely whenever I make a mistake with my wardrobe (old-lady rubber boots, instead of cool lace-up hiking boots), or when I reveal myself to be ignorant of popular culture (no one cares about Jane's Addiction anymore). They want to know why I do not wear a wedding ring (I have deliberately misled them into thinking that I'm married). I seem to be the only Canadian they are aware of ever having met. One of their mothers, writing me a note explaining her daughter's absence, wanted to know two things: (1) Do you have a fax? My daughter often has inner ear infections accompanying colds, and it would be easier to explain her absence without having to write a note that she will probably lose on the way to school and (2) Did you ever meet Pierre Trudeau? My husband says he was a charming, well-educated man who stood by his wife as long as he could. My husband was picked out of a crowd to dance with Margaret Trudeau up the aisle of Books & Co., in New York City. If you want to know more, we will be at Parent-Teacher night.

    But most of all--more than they pity me for not knowing to wear black-red Morticia lipstick instead of stupid pale pink, or for having my hair blunt cut, rather than layered in a retro Farrah Fawcett style that has recently been welcomed enthusiastically--most of all, they pity me for having chosen to spend my time in school. They feel that I could be making more money working for a corporation, as their fathers and some of their mothers do, or at the very least that I could be a consultant, and therefore have more flexible time. I try to discuss my private life very little, but I am torn between wanting them to like me and my normal adult tendency to withhold unnecessary information from everyone except personal friends, unless I absolutely have to let a telephone salesperson know everything about me so I can order from a catalog. The problem is a little complicated: many of my students are Japanese. Nothing I tell them is really extraneous information, because they are all recent immigrants to the United States, and they don't have a very good sense of how Americans live (although they do have a firm sense of how people should dress and style their hair). I exist for them--for the girls, anyway--somewhere in the limbo between parents and pranksters (American boys at thirteen can be terribly cruel), and as such, I am watched intently for signs that I might be listing one way or the other. Part of their ongoing quiz is a genuine desire to see that I have not shifted ground; another part is curiosity, yet it transcends curiosity, and perhaps should be respected as such.

    I started at Benjamin Franklin as a substitute. I went there to replace the history teacher, when her appendix ruptured. She recovered from this, slowly, but was mugged in late September when she left her sickbed, against the doctor's advice, to attend her son's wedding in Detroit. Mrs. Truehall died, and a team of two psychologists was dispatched to Benjamin Franklin to explain that Mrs. Truehall would not be returning: the students would not be seeing her because race relations continued to be a problem in our country, and because drugs such as crack caused senseless violence. It wasn't a very good talk. It was the sort of negative, cover-all-bases talk that was the obverse of the "have a nice day" mentality so rampant in the culture. I had only met Mrs. Truehall once. She clearly adored the students, and they adored her. I was shocked when the principal called me to say that she had died--that the news would be in the next day's paper, but that I should prepare myself for what was sure to be a sad, demanding, and arduous day at Benjamin Franklin. The principal, Darren Luftquist, always explains himself by giving examples in groups of three: when he asked me to finish the term, and I accepted, he was pleased, grateful, and relieved. Not one more thing? I wanted to ask him: not just a teeny bit irritated that the students had unanimously said I was the best teacher they'd ever had, except for Mrs. Truehall, when his own wife taught social sciences at the school? But I said nothing, and from September until late October I continued to teach history, double-checking my interpretations of certain historical events during pillow talk with Carl, as well as consulting an invaluable yard-sale Toynbee. In November, another problem arose that sprang me from history class and deposited me into what was for me the much-better-known field (and ruts) of English: Howard von der Meiss, the Princeton Ph.D. who had sought the job in order to be close to his boyfriend, who ran the family lumber business ("I was nonjudgmental, open-minded, and supportive"), ran off with a stock boy and sent hate mail to the former lover and to the principal announcing that he had done so, though the letter did not arrive until several days of unexplained absences had passed. I was "rotated" (an apt word; Luftquist's conversation could make a person's head spin) into what had formerly been von der Meiss's seventh-grade classroom. A replacement history teacher had been more quickly found than an English teacher, and Darren Luftquist's wife had reminded her husband that my actual training was in English. She did this not to be truly helpful, but because she was a bitch. She knew that the ten Asian students--all of them girls, by coincidence--had had their own classes suspended, while they attended nonstop English classes, in order to better learn the language. They sat there like a Greek chorus--if you can imagine Japanese teenage girls as a Greek chorus--whispering, and eventually giggling (this was progress?), as the other students trudged through their days, going from classroom to classroom. To the Japanese students, the bell was only a minor annoyance, like hearing someone's cell phone ring in a crowded theater. They shifted in their chairs and chatted as the halls filled with students, then emptied. They knew they had been nicknamed "the Tokyo Toads," though not one of them was from Tokyo, and all ranged from attractive to beautiful. Still, the nickname had traumatized them, separated them from the other students, made them suspicious and self-critical and--when I pressed the point with them--resentful. They were astonished to find out how negative I felt about the boys who had been mean to them. In a private meeting with the girls after school, the braver ones named names, and I threw in a couple of others. I made them all brush their hair off their foreheads, even if they had bangs. I told them that they could do whatever they wanted when they left my classroom, but in the classroom I would expect to see any hair that was not tucked behind their ears held back by headbands and bobby pins, and that they were to sit with space between their chairs and not only look me in the eye, but any boy they felt like staring down. I taught them the word "decondition." I told them that there was a little boy in my own family, and that I dreaded the time when he might go through an awful period in adolescence when he became cruel, and that I was doing everything possible to see that he always treated other people the way he would like to be treated. I discussed with them hormones, insecurity, the male tendency not to ask for directions, and the glass ceiling. Then I explained that men were now in a difficult position because they suddenly found themselves in a different world, which had different expectations. I discussed harmful stereotyping and quoted Oscar Wilde on the war between the sexes. I was a little out of control, but kept going because they were leaning forward, inclining their bodies at exactly the same angle, like the Rockettes--except that of course they were not kicking. I stopped when I found myself passing around my compact so they could look in the mirror and receive makeup hints. Subsequently, they sat taller, pinned back their bangs, wore early-Hillary Rodham Clinton headbands, and asked me privately for advice about everything from easing menstrual cramps to training their family pets.

    I came to like the girls so much that I made a mistake. I began to mythologize my own life, though I didn't realize at first that that was what I was doing because I was never the heroine of my stories; instead, like my students, I was a stranger in a strange land (suburbia), expected to play a confusing new role (stepmother; I eventually had to confess my real relationship to Jason, while still fudging about my marital status); soul mate to someone who thought of himself as charismatic--a word I had success in defining by conjuring up Mick Jagger, who seemed to be an excellent cross-cultural reference point for many things--but who was actually quite conservative and demanding. I gave them an example: Carl would manipulate me into going on family outings I wouldn't like by thanking me in advance for being such a trooper. I let Carl remain a little ambiguous to them by making him seem romantic and likable as well as the source of many of my problems, but Jason I simply demonized. I described the dishes sliding off Estelle's table with the fervor of someone who had viewed the devastation at Hiroshima; I made Jason's eating habits interchangeable with those of starving cannibals; I explained his clumsiness in serious psychological terms (disguised aggression), after conjuring up Wile E. Coyote going over a cliff. I told them that if Jason were Superman, he would fly into buildings.

    They listened, spellbound. They wanted more and more. Without exactly intending it, I had created a fictional character for them to confront in their imaginations, distracting them from the teenage boys who were their real tormentors. Manic, clumsy Jason was someone they could feel superior to. They liked it that all his adventures were misadventures. They liked it that we had a common bond, that by rejecting Jason, I accepted them; they all became Teacher's Pet, like Cerberus sprouting extra heads.

    I miscalculated, though, because I trusted that they would understand, on some level, that I was inventing a larger-than-life Jason. I assumed that my grudging affection for Jason would shine through. I probably even thought that they would intuit that I was in over my head. Moriko Watanabe, however, became all too enthralled with Jason. She begged me to take him shopping somewhere where she could see him; she offered to smuggle me her father's expensive camcorder so I could record him in mid-dash from some calamity. She had a bright-eyed I-Believe-in-Santa expression of such incredulity that it bordered on being obscene; it was really a leer.

    One day Moriko, bright-eyed, caught up with me when I was walking to my car. Her friend Miharu was with her.

    "Mrs. Woodruff," Moriko said, "Jason reminds me of the story of Susanowo. Have you heard it? He was a god, but the story is really about his sister."

    "I don't know that story," I said.

    "Well," she said, "it's about a boy just like your son. He messes everything up! He never does what he is supposed to do. He's the storm god, and he's supposed to watch over the sea, but instead, he ruins the land. He destroys everything, and his sister, Ameterasu, becomes frightened of him and goes into a cave. She is gone, and there is no light for anyone." Moriko pauses for effect. "And then there is a huge celebration that some people have, because perhaps if there is a party outside the cave, she will come out."

    As she spoke, I noticed how fine her fingers were; how slender her wrists. She waved one hand elegantly, as if she were waving politely to a crowd that admired her. "Then," she said, "when she cannot stand the suspense, she comes all the way out, and a mirror--like the mirror in your compass--"

    "Compact," I said.

    "Yes. It's held out to her, and she sees her own reflection and is brought all the way out and everyone rejoices because there is light again, and the sun god is among them."

    "She was kunitokotachi," Miharu broke in to tell me, as I opened my car door. She pronounced the word with reverence. "This means what is unseen. The spirit of the universe."

    They both nodded, smiling.

    "Good," I said. "She presided again, and everything was okay."

    "A rope is stretched across the cave. It stops her, so she cannot go back in even if she wants to," Miharu said.

    Moriko nodded. In equal measure, there seemed to be simultaneous confusion and acceptance of what Miharu had just told me.

    "I'll see you tomorrow," I told the girls.

    Then they became girls again, whispering and giggling together.

Several days later, Moriko began phoning the house. She set a fire in a trash can, probably hoping Jason would run out to smother it.

    I knew who the silent caller was because, after many hang-ups, I heard someone call Moriko's name while she was holding the silent phone. It was the neighbor who saw her set the fire and called the police. We were trekking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, several hours away from Carl's house in suburban Washington--an outing made miserable by Jason's having switched the Evian in my bottle for salt water.

    Our neighbor, Anthony Diaz, gave chase to Moriko and caught her a few houses away, then dragged her back to his house and called the police when she wouldn't tell him her name. She was taken to the police station, where her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Tomoo Watanabe, were called. There, apparently, a chilling though garbled account was given of our mutual persecution--Moriko's and mine--by a name-calling, xenophobic monster (she remembered the term I had taught her well). I was called by an outraged Tomoo Watanabe at ten o'clock at night (not that he hadn't left plenty of messages earlier). I was guilty of ruining Moriko's life, and of causing her to disgrace the family. In his own fictionalization, my son, Jason, was a person with a mental handicap whom I was badly mistreating. I had tried to throw the boy over a cliff, he informed me. After a lengthy talk with his daughter at the police station, she had informed the police of the same thing. Tomoo Watanabe, Spin Doctor: the wrongly maligned Moriko had set the fire to rescue Jason.

    Let it be known that when all this first began to unfold I had been home alone with Jason because message 1 of our filled-up message tape had been from Estelle, saying that Nonette's son had threatened her and that she had left her house and gone to a Holiday Inn and didn't know what to do next.

    Jason hid under his bed when the police came, late at night, to the house, and when I tried to drag him out to corroborate that I had never tried to throw him over a cliff, he kicked and screamed (he was angry that his father had spanked him on the trail when the salt-water switch was discovered) and told them I wasn't his mother. Fortunately, he was too out of control to be believed, and I have the open, honest face of any woman who has not been totally steamrollered by life. When Jason provided no further specifics, the police officers became more sympathetic and even relaxed enough to accept a cup of tea. They sat at the kitchen table. I tried to be very calm and slightly world-weary (no problem there) as I communicated that I was bemused by what one of my silly young students had done. Both of the police officers had children. They seemed to sympathize and hurried through their written report. One took lavender honey with her tea. Fortunately, they left before I had to explain Carl's absence in any detail (he was "visiting a friend who was having something of a crisis"), but I didn't get off the hook as easily with "my husband" when he arrived home. With him, too, I tried to act bemused about Moriko's folly. I could not very well explain that I had created a cartoon demon in Moriko's mind by caricaturing his son, though, so Moriko's actions ended up seeming random and bizarre, and the more I tried to insist that a fire in a trash can was nothing, the more Carl presented it as our neighbor had to the police: the little bitch was dangerous, and furthermore, he had advised against my taking a permanent teaching job to begin with, and here was an example of how kids that age would do anything for a teacher's attention--by implication, Helter Skelter was next--and what he really needed was a mother for his son (snoring on top of the bed, by the time Dad returned; if someone could be smug in sleep, Jason was) and a mother for the daughter he so dearly desired.

Carl and I stand looking into his sleeping son's room. A poster of King Kong, holding tiny Jessica Lange, is taped to the wall above his bed. Legos are scattered on the floor like rice in a church driveway. Carl is taking the opportunity to conjure up for me his wedding: the four-months-pregnant Beatrice in her white velvet dress, with "something blue" the half-slip she wore, embroidered by her with a small depiction of a tiny, big-headed embryo of the child she was carrying--a sort of latter-day Hester (if Hester had worn her A on the inside), a little personal reminder, a little symbolic nod toward the future, no more likely to be seen--or, if seen, recognized--than the clean underwear so many people's mothers urge them to wear when taking a trip. The sleeping Jason has provoked a trip down memory lane for Carl that even has him describing his former wife's undergarments, as well as the amount, the sheer amount, of rice that was once thrown in a church driveway in his behalf. Do I, or do I not, want a daughter? he demands.

    "What would you do if it turned out to be another son?" I ask, trying to be reasonable, not shitty, but it sets him off.

    He asked a serious and logical question, okay. But consider it from my perspective: I had been looking for romance, not family life, when I responded to his misleading ad. It could not be said that Jason and I have become soul mates. It could also not be said that Carl and I are a match made in heaven, because he is old-fashioned in thinking that women should not work, except to take care of the home and the family. Does he seriously, really and truly, think that I should hang around the house, sweeping up dust, sweeping problems under the rug, growing a baby belly just so he can pursue his relentless desire to be normal, average, and in that way somehow cosmically make up for the fact that his parents were thrill-seeking adventurers who left him orphaned?

    We climb into bed--my favorite moment of the day--and he tells me the story of Estelle, hiding from Nonette's son, Tyrone Jr., but not so nervous she didn't make an appointment for a hair styling and facial at the Holiday Inn's new spa. It seems Tyrone Jr. did not actually threaten her, but used language not fit for a lady to hear. He insisted that his mother had taken no money, and that furthermore, their minister would attest to her honesty. The minister was apparently in a bar with Tyrone Jr. when he called, and Estelle obviously panicked as much to think they might pay a late-night call and expect her to pray with them--Estelle is not a religious woman--as that Tyrone Jr. might come to the house and deck her. It was Nonette's dishonesty that offended Estelle, not the missing money. As Carl talked, I could almost hear her simpering.

    Carl resumes the discussion of Moriko Watanabe, and, sleepy, I find myself doing the same thing to Carl that I did to Moriko. I begin to think aloud--the way so many bedtime stories come into being--and to create a story in which Moriko is acting out her hostility because too much is expected of her.

    How exactly did this cause her to set a fire in our trash can?

    I sidestep this. "It wasn't exactly the Feds storming Ruby Ridge." What Moriko did was more analogous to Brownies gathered around the campfire, roasting marshmallows: just a little fire; just a little danger. "She's my favorite student," I say to Carl, having just decided that. "Her real problem is with her parents."

    "She can be the flower girl at our wedding," Carl says, sliding a hand under my nightgown.

    "She's too old to be a flower girl."

    "Matron of honor," he says, sliding his hand higher.

    "Stop pretending to be sex crazed and insensitive."

    He sits up and reaches below the bed and comes up with my bedroom slipper. It is blue terry cloth: the stretchy kind, with a small blue bow. "You are not my true love if this shoe doesn't fit," he says. He cradles it in his hand, drawing out the moment when he will slip it on my foot.

    "Oh, Carl, give it a break," I say.

    "You're not going to find anybody better than me, because you're not perfect yourself," he says.

    "When did I say I was? I'm sulky and I don't respect myself for being too easily manipulated, and I have no idea what I'd really like to work at, but I do know that I have to refuse to be an incubator for you and a stepmother to a boy who doesn't like me very much."

    "He's jealous," Carl says. "He used to have my undivided attention."

    We jump when the phone rings. It is Tomoo Watanabe, even more incensed after receiving whatever call he has by now received from the police. This man wanted body parts to be found, I am certain.

    "Listen, buddy boy," Carl says, grabbing the phone. "It's bedtime. You have some respect for our customs. You've got the juvenile delinquent daughter. She could have burned our house down."

    "Not my daughter!" Tomoo Watanabe shouts.

    Carl hangs up on him and turns off the ringer. He also makes it downstairs in time to hear only one ring from Mr. Watanabe's next call before he turns off that ringer, too.

    "Marry me," he says, coming back into the bedroom and thudding onto the bed. "It's the only way. What are you going to do, keep auditioning guys? They'll all tell you a good story and then turn out to be just as disappointing as me."

    "You haven't been disappointing. I just don't agree with many of your ideas."

    "I don't agree with all of them myself," he says. "It was once my idea to marry a woman who kept a half-pint of Jack Daniel's floating in the toilet tank and jars of candied cherries hidden in her underwear drawer."

    "You were young," I say.

    "Tins of anchovies hidden in the umbrella stand," he says.

    "Stop punishing yourself."

    "Anchovies," he repeats, after a pause.

    I turn off the clip-on light on my side of the headboard.

    "I realize there isn't much of anywhere for this conversation to go after bringing up my bulimic former wife," Carl says glumly.

    Beatrice advertised for a new companion while still married to Carl. When a new relationship worked out, she left the man's ad taped to the bathroom mirror, with a big lipsticked check mark beside it. To begin immediately: Carl's further dependency on Estelle + a cycle of nannies. Then--inspired by Beatrice's boldness and determined to prove that some good always comes of adversity--Carl's own ad, so transparently downbeat that his best friend rewrote it. Then: me. A conventional girl from a conventional family, a nice Canadian with a red maple leaf pin on her lapel and a charm bracelet that advertised her conflict: it dangled a miniature typewriter, an artist's palette, a baby shoe, a Scottie dog, and a shovel, which a former boyfriend maintained was actually a coke spoon. Back in my days at Humber College, I had had exactly eight dates: five with a boy who left school to go to England to study acting (I lived with him the summer before he left, so I stopped counting the days as "dates"), one with a boy from Hamilton, New York, who wanted to participate in the space program, and two with my English-lit professor, who made me read his whole 1,200-page novel before he admitted he was married. I was twenty-four when I met Carl, who is the one true love of my life: thirty-four, six feet tall, handsome, with a Roman nose that often has an eternal adolescent pimple on one side. He is exactly the age his father was when the plane he was piloting smashed into trees in Anchorage. It was a dark, well-kept secret, until her obituary ran, that his wife, Carl's mother, was seven years older than her husband. Even Estelle didn't know.

    "What do you think made her float the bourbon bottle?" I say.

    No answer. I turn onto one hip and consider my future. Except for my students, I am out of touch with almost everybody. My best friend, Cora Kelley, moved with her husband to Ann Arbor. I hardly know Darren Luftquist or his wife, and none of the other teachers seems very interested in being friendly. Even my parents have faded away, because I see them so infrequently, and when I do see them, Carl and Jason are the Subject Not to Be Discussed--my mother does not approve of women and men cohabiting and thinks this would present a bad example to my little sister. With the exception of my mother's unwillingness to discuss the love of my life, my parents, like most Canadians, are relentlessly neutral about almost everything. According to them, my sister and older brothers are all prospering, the boys happily married, everyone hormonally well balanced. And maybe they are: I had enough of them when we were growing up in the same house.

    "I admire Moriko for what she did," I suddenly hear myself say.

    He snorts. I knew he wasn't asleep.

    "You know what I mean. The Japanese don't value girls very highly. Moriko was expressing her discontent."

    "Go to sleep," he says.

    "Estelle doesn't have a very clear sense of self-worth," I say. "That probably got communicated to you, and it gave you the message that women aren't very forceful. Think about it. She thought Nonette's son was going to cause her trouble, and instead of calling the police or something, she checked into a Holiday Inn. That's what a Canadian would do, for chrissake. And feel guilty that maybe somebody else needed the room."

    "You've lost your mind."

    "I haven't. I'm just saying that I don't understand my countrymen."

    "I can't believe this is who I'm lying in bed with," Carl says.

    "Well, you are. You advertised for it, and here it is."

    " 'Wanted: Woman who does not understand her own kind. Maternal instincts unnecessary, but should be expansive in thinking about the virtues of pyromaniacs. Prolonged bedtime banter a plus.' "

    "You actually have a very good sense of humor, Carl. Why didn't you write your own ad and mention your sense of humor?"

    I think long and hard about it. Carl does not. He falls asleep.

The following day, Moriko does not attend school. The other nine girls have heard what has happened. I know they know: they let their hair flop in their faces and draw close again. They regard me sullenly. I am the person responsible for their friend's absence. What do they think? I can guess, all too easily. They assume I reported her to the police. They think, at the very least, that even if I might be a victim, I am still, as an adult, somehow capable of undoing the damage. They see me in a new light--see right through me, actually--and think I provoked her. They see what Moriko did as bold, and therefore very American. They see that now that someone has learned my lessons about necessary aggression and has taken action, the instigator has retreated into the shadows.

    Tomoo Watanabe and his lawyer--a short, grimacing man in a Johnnie Cochran tie--and Darren Luftquist march grim-faced to my office at the end of the school day. I am more than willing to let bygones be bygones, but Mr. Watanabe will not have it. He speaks animatedly to the lawyer, in Japanese, moving in his seat like a warming jumping bean before I finish my sentences. I try to suggest that we forget what is surely a slight transgression and move forward. Unless that means inching toward me anxiously in his chair, he isn't about to. Neither does he seem able to let go of the idea of Jason-the-Monster.

    Mr. Watanabe speaks. The lawyer says: "Jason may make you fatigued. He stays up all night, dirties his room, throws his toys everywhere. You come to school tired. How can you direct students toward academic excellence if you are tired?"

    "Frankly, that is not my only goal," I say. "School is--"

    "She is an excellent teacher!" Luftquist says huffily.

    Mr. Watanabe speaks. The lawyer says: "This is his niece. His brother died in a tragic accident. An avalanche. He married the widow. Moriko is Takayo's daughter with his deceased brother, and he does not think it would be correct to adopt her. Mr. Watanabe was never before married, and would not be married now except for extenuating circumstances."

    "That's very sad," Luftquist says, "but I don't--"

    Mr. Watanabe gives a jumping-bean jerk. He speaks to the lawyer.

    "I must tell you about his position at Samaya, U.S.," the lawyer says. "Mr. Watanabe is CEO of Samaya, U.S. The company currently employs over forty people. He must get a good night's sleep, every night, to be excellent in his job. As a word from myself, personally, he is excellent in his job. I, too, work at Samaya, U.S." The lawyer reaches in his jacket pocket and holds out a piece of paper: "Mr. Watanabe's curriculum vitae."

    "We have no doubt Mr.--"

    The lawyer: "Forgive me. Mr. Watanabe wished me to say, previously, as well, that Westerners may not understand the importance of sleep, because they think Japanese people work all the time. This is not so for Mr. Watanabe, who sleeps seven hours each night but who has also taken a cruise with his niece and his wife on the Q.E. Two."

    "Very bad voyage on the Q.E. Two. Money is to be refunded," Mr. Watanabe says.

    "What, really, is your point here, sir?" Luftquist says. Confused about who to converse with, he looks at the space between their heads.

    Mr. Watanabe speaks. The lawyer turns to me. "Mr. Watanabe extends his good wishes for your ability to have a good night's sleep. I must not continue to interject my own thoughts, or we will never finish. Mr. Watanabe wants to know if you consider Moriko to be of superior intelligence."

    "Superior?" Mr. Watanabe echoes, edgily.

    "After approximately two and a half months in our school, there is no way that--"

    "Excellent or not," Luftquist says, "she saw fit to start a fire."

    "Let's not get into that again," I say.

    Mr. Watanabe stands up suddenly. He speaks to the lawyer. The lawyer looks puzzled. Again, he holds out the curriculum vitae to Luftquist. Luftquist looks at me as if I am the one being unusually persistent. "Mr. Watanabe's credentials are not in question. Ms. Woodruff--"

    "Fire!" Mr. Watanabe says, so loud that he fools me, and I look around. His arm waves through the air. Then, frowning, he takes his curriculum vitae from the lawyer and looks it over.

    Luftquist stands. Following his lead, so do I. The lawyer quickly gets to his feet. Mr. Watanabe says to me: "In Japan, this would be impossible. No fires in trash cans. No fires."

    Mr. Watanabe extends his hand. Luftquist shakes Mr. Watanabe's hand. The lawyer faces first me, and bows, then Luftquist, to whom he bows more deeply. Luftquist bows back. Mr. Watanabe speaks to the lawyer.

    The lawyer says: "Moriko will return to school. Mr. Watanabe understands that you wish the students to strive for academic excellence. In Japan, though, Moriko would not set a fire in a trash can." The translator adds, sotto voce: "He feels."

    "I am happy this has been clarified," Luftquist says. "Gentlemen, good day."

    "Goodbye," the translator says, bowing slightly. Mr. Watanabe walks ahead of the translator. The janitor, polishing the floors, makes way. He is wearing jade-green pants with a sleeveless T-shirt tucked inside and a cap with bobby brown atlanta 1993 written across the front. do we dance? is written on the back.

    "What do you suppose all that was about?" Luftquist whispers.

    "He was implying that I am deficient as a teacher and as a parent."

    "You have to be kidding," Luftquist says. "That's what you think that was about?"

    "Well, what did you think?"

    "I'm sure I did not understand, did not care to persevere, and do not really sympathize with the conversational modes of the Japanese."

    "What do you think his deepest thoughts are?" I say as we pass the janitor.

    "The building maintenance person? His wife and my wife are volunteers at Forward, the women's shelter," Luftquist says, as if he has answered the question. There is a long silence, but it feels chummier than my previous long silences with Luftquist. I am headed for my car. I don't know where Luftquist is headed. "If I may say," Luftquist says. "If I may, what I want to say is that, number one, I hope I was supportive of you, because I was trying to communicate that you are a valued member of our staff, and that whatever happened with that silly girl, that niece, or whatever she is, we all do value you here, and we don't--we don't think you have it easy. Who has it easy, of course? But you shouldn't think that I haven't taken notice of the way you have worked with the Japanese girls. I hope you don't think that your efforts go unappreciated. In spite of the fact that one of them started that fire at your house, I mean."

    "Thank you," I say.

    "You're welcome," he says.

    We walk awhile, and near the front door to the school he says: "God knows, it's a relief to say something to you and to be understood, instead of trying to express my thoughts to Mr. Watanabe and that lawyer."

    "Did you think you would be a principal?" I say.

    "No. I planned to be a biologist," Luftquist says.

    "You knew that Carl and I met through the personals listing, right?"

    He stops. "How might I know that?"

    "The party at your house before the start of school. Carl told me he told you."

    "Perhaps he told Doris," Luftquist says. "At any rate: superior job you've been doing, very commendable you've extended yourself as you have to the Japanese girls, glad the rotation worked out so successfully."

    "He didn't tell you that? He really didn't tell you?"

    "If you think that I think life makes any more sense than you do, you're wrong," Luftquist says.

    "Thank you," I say again.

    "Welcome," he says, reaching around me to push open the door.

"Carl," I say.


    "Come on. Listen to me."


    "Carl, I have something to say."


    "I think we've unfairly pigeonholed Luftquist."

    "Bake him some Christmas cookies," Carl says sleepily.

    "You always say something sarcastic. You thought Moriko should be a flower girl at our wedding. You think I should bake cookies for Luftquist. All right, I'm a little stressed out lately. But the thing is, I'm rethinking things. The fire in the trash has made me look at things in a different way. It seems to me that Luftquist finds his job difficult. He intended to be a biologist."

    "That lunkhead?"

    "Carl, be serious. I'm beginning to think that we all drift into things."

    "Like snow," he says.

    "Not like snow. That we drift sort of unnaturally."

    "Okay," he says, turning on his light.

    "My finding you was just chance. My becoming a teacher because of some scores I got on an aptitude test, and because of the coincidence of my moving in with you, and then hearing at some stupid party about the opening at Benjamin Franklin."

    "Are you saying I'm just some random guy?" Carl says.

    "What would make you think that? I feel closer to you than I've felt to anyone, ever. But the thing is, I have a confession to make: I told them certain stories. I made my life . . . I made it the opposite of glamorous. I sort of sacrificed Jason, actually. I used to joke about how wild he was, and how disorderly, and Moriko somehow didn't quite get the drift of it. She sort of got fascinated by Jason. She tried to get me to bring him to school. She's a very imaginative girl, and she got very excited about meeting him. Then when I wouldn't come through, she got desperate."

    Carl doubles up the pillow behind his head. He looks at me blankly and turns off his light, so we are in the dark again.




    "All right," he says. "What exactly happened with you and Moriko? Just cut to the chase. Why, exactly, did she set a fire in our trash can?"

    "God, Carl, there aren't exact, one hundred percent verifiable reasons for these things."

    He grunts.

    "Okay," I say, taking a deep breath. "Moriko probably feels persecuted, and I was being cute and insinuating that I did, too, by my son--they assume he's my son--I acted like maybe what he did was upsetting, like when he stole the bike and crashed into a tree, because actually it was upsetting to me. The thing is, she's just a kid, and I guess I thought I was being funny, you know, wry, and she thought I was really complaining, and I guess I was, but there wasn't anything I expected her to do, because, I mean, she doesn't know anything about our country, even, she just got here in August, so she probably misunderstood . . . she's literal minded, and she thought I had a problem, and she got very interested in my problem, and she wanted to see it, so to speak. She wanted to meet Jason, and of course I'm not going to trot him out to be observed, I'm not going to put him on display like Dr. Hannibal Lecter . . . you aren't asleep, are you?"

    "I keep feeling like she's prowling around out there," Carl says.

    "Well, she isn't."

    "I rely on you to see things clearly," Carl says.

    "You just want to end the discussion." I sit up in bed. "Carl," I say, "do you think I'm an awful person?"

    "No," Carl says. He is silent again, but then he surprises me by sitting up and turning on the light on his side of the bed. In a split second, in the too-bright room, I see our clothes strewn on the floor, the broken slat of the venetian blind, the rug pad protruding from one end of the rug--all the usual chaos of daily life. It's not only Jason, and his tossed toys and ticktacktoe of shoes gradually filling the house; it's the sprawl created by the adults' holding pattern of possessions, things owned by people overgifted and overly acquisitive, who've forgotten to discard the old as they've brought in the new. The rattan chair, which would look much better on the porch we don't have, sits in the far corner, draped with my brassiere and checkmated by Carl's Jockey shorts. The bureau drawers are ajar. Dried flowers in a glass vase--why even pretend that real ones, untended, would last any time at all? My mother would be horrified. My mother believes in order and cleanliness, which she managed in spite of the fact that she had such a big family: everything in its place; order in the house bringing order to the soul. In this, as in so many things, I resisted her teachings. Estelle is also very orderly, but Carl is more like me. Maybe not quite as haphazard, but still hardly organized. Misplacing keys is one thing, but misplacing your tool belt is another. Our house is enough to make me yearn for the Zen-like simplicity of a single stone on a tabletop, one flower in a vase. Which brings me back to thinking about Moriko. It seems to me, tonight, that my playing Scheherazade with the students was such a Western way of relating. Such a selfish way of communicating with them: spinning tales to save myself even though I was never in any danger, just engaging in narcissistic fantasies, really, while poor Moriko tried to grasp their common threads in order to have something to hang on to.

    The next day, though Mr. Watanabe said Moriko would be in school, she is not. Her friends regard me coolly. Thick, newly cut bangs flop forward onto Kyoko Iida's forehead. I feel that I have done something bad. I intuit that Moriko's day is not going well. I drop the chalk, drop the eraser. Before class is over, I trip on a bit of chalk and barely retain my balance. The Japanese girls bring their heads together for a moment of quiet bobbing, as if they are birds clustered at a tiny suet ball.

Jason brings home his friend's ferret without asking us first if it's okay to keep the ferret while his friend has his tonsils removed. It gets loose and runs through the house. Carl curses, and Jason echoes him. "Fuck!" Jason screams. In case we didn't hear: "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!"

    "I am not a good parent," I say to Carl, through clenched teeth, when he comes into the kitchen and deliberately collides with me to stop me from bringing the telephone book down on the ferret's head. (In my fury, I am convinced I can smoosh it the second it darts out from under the refrigerator.)

    "No!" Jason wails.

    "Honey--it really is only a ferret," Carl says.

    "Murderer!" Jason screams, as if the ferret's bashed-in brains are a done deal.

    "Let's all take a long, deep breath," Carl says, holding out his hand for the telephone book.

    "Grand-Mam's going to buy me an aquarium with baby barracudas!" Jason says, grabbing the pile of paper napkins on the table and throwing them up in the air. "I can live with Grand-Maaaaaaaaaaam!" Then he's gone, out the back door, slamming it behind him.

    Carl pulls out a kitchen chair and sinks down, elbows on the tabletop, head in his hands.

    "I'm sorry," I say. "It . . . the thing looks like a mouse."

    "No Disney World for you," Carl mutters. "Apparently you're going to have to be a little more mature before we take you to Disney World."

    This makes me laugh. As I laugh, the ferret streaks into the living room. Would this happen in Japan, in a ryokan? If not, could I go there to live, with my one rock on a table?

    "Things are out of control," I say.

    "It's just a ferret," Carl says.

    "Jason ran out the back door in the freezing cold. Without a coat."

    "That means he'll be back soon."

    "Are you having a day of being unflappable just to get my goat?"

    "I'm going to be fired if I don't get over to the Wrights' house to install their cabinets," he says. "I promised them I'd work tonight, to make up for lost time. The plumber's fault, not mine," he adds.

    "So what am I supposed to do? Go around wringing my hands, waiting for Jason's return?"

    "You could probably use a soak in a hot bath," Carl says. "Why don't you take a bath?"

    "I'd start screaming, like Frances Farmer."

    "Who's Frances Farmer?" he says.

    "Jessica Lange," I say.

An hour or so after Jason's departure, Mrs. Kniessel calls to say that Jason is at her house, watching Bram Stoker's Dracula with Jake's older brother. Jake's surgery was successful. She thanks me for suggesting to Jason that he pay a courtesy call. He is a very nice boy who has gone to their house to console them while their son, the owner of the ferret that is now at large, is in the hospital. Am I aware, she asks, that Jason is without a coat? She says this with exaggerated tactfulness, as if she were asking if I am aware that Jason has wings. I mutter something about children refusing to acknowledge winter and say that Carl will pick Jason up when he returns from work. "Such long hours!" Mrs. Kniessel says. ("What wings!") It is eight o'clock.

    Then I do it: I screw up my courage and call the home of Moriko Watanabe. I'm not at all sure what tone to strike if she's there. Should I be angry that she's been absent? Chide her, tell her to return to class? A little pleading--how much her friends miss her? Should I simply sound as abject as I feel and apologize?

    The lawyer answers the phone: "Good evening. Watanabe residence. This is their lawyer speaking. How may I help you?"

    "Hello," I bring myself to say, after a pause long enough to have offered him every opportunity to hang up. "This is Alison Woodruff, Moriko's teacher."

    "Ms. Woodruff. Hello. You are calling Mr. Watanabe?"

    "No, actually I'm calling for Moriko."

    This produces a long silence. In the background, I hear the television. "Thank you for calling," the lawyer says. "I will get Mr. Watanabe."

    He comes to the phone. The lawyer explains that he will remain on the extension. In the background, Niles archly responds to something Frasier has said.

    "Thank you very much for your concern for my niece's academic excellence," Mr. Watanabe says.

    Why did I call? Why did I do this?

    "I was hoping to speak to Moriko directly," I say.

    "Moriko is studying," Mr. Watanabe says.

    "But she hasn't been in school. I don't want you to think that there is any problem about her returning to school."

    He says nothing.

    "In fact," I say, "she has to come back to school."

    He says nothing.

    "It's the law," I say.

    "She must study very hard to catch up," Mr. Watanabe says.

    "Mr. Watanabe, do you understand what I'm saying? I'm not angry about the fire. Adolescents go through these periods. Moriko hasn't stayed out of school because she's embarrassed to come back, has she?"


    "The law requires that Moriko be in school. Is she going to be there tomorrow?"

    "Snow tomorrow," the lawyer says. It is the briefest mention of the weather I have heard in years.

    "Is Mrs. Watanabe there?" I ask.

    "Mrs. Watanabe does not speak English," Mr. Watanabe says.

    "Mr. Watanabe, you understand English very well, don't you?"

    "Mr. Watanabe has an excellent understanding," the lawyer says.

    "The reason for my call is to apologize"--now that I've said it, I realize the reason for my call--"and to say that I may have overstepped my bounds in relating so many personal things about my life to the students. To Moriko," I add. It is slowly coming clearer to me: the distinct possibility that Moriko, who is apparently kept hostage by the men in the house, not even allowed to come to the telephone, might well have tried to be my knight in shining armor. Maybe she wasn't only trying to get a glimpse of Jason; maybe she was trying to smoke him out.

    "Mr. Watanabe, please let me speak to your niece," I say, starting all over again.

    "This would not happen in Japan," Mr. Watanabe says. "There is no burning of trash outside a person's home. There are vandals. There are some problems. But not this."

    "It doesn't matter," I say. I am getting totally worn down. "The only important thing is that Moriko knows I'm not angry with her, and that she return to school. She can pursue academic excellence at school," I add, not caring if he hears the sarcasm in my voice.

    "Thank you very much," Mr. Watanabe says.

    "Thank you for calling," the lawyer says. Someone hangs up.

    "Hello?" I say to the person remaining on the line.

    "You say goodbye and I say goodbye and hang up next," the lawyer says.

    "Please put Moriko on. I'm worried about Moriko."

    "She has promised to work very hard," the lawyer says. "Goodbye."

    "Goodbye," I say.

    He hangs up.

    I turn on the TV. Frasier is in his recording studio, with his earphones on. "Good morning, Seattle," he says. In the adjacent glass cubicle, Roz gestures wildly. I turn the TV off. I am afraid, irrationally, that the lawyer will reappear on Frasier, and that the show will quickly spin off into perplexing exchanges that go nowhere.

    Carl does not return, and does not return. Neither does Jason. He's probably watching Dracula a second time, absorbing new tricks. Even the ferret stays hidden. At ten o'clock, though--it is a school night, after all--I get in the car and drive to the Kniessels' house to round up Jason. He is just a little boy, I remind myself. I am the mature, responsible adult. I should not have tried to kill the ferret. I will apologize for losing my temper. We may discuss why women are afraid of rodents. He is probably afraid to come home, but when he sees me, he will be relieved to know that all is forgiven. He treats me fine when Carl isn't around to impress. We have a better relationship, he and I, when neither one of us is vying for Carl's attention.

    Mrs. Kniessel's house is picture-perfect. There is even an orchid blooming. From upstairs, I hear chilling noises. Downstairs, Brahms is playing quietly. Mr. Kniessel stands when I come into the living room. He is wearing leather slippers and a white shirt and dark pants. He shakes my hand and asks whether we ever took the trip to the Grand Canyon we were considering. I tell him we didn't. This disappoints all three of us, it seems.

    "Jason, dear," Mrs. Kniessel calls.

    He comes to the top of the stairs. He looks down at me. I look up and smile. It is not an entirely sincere smile, but truly: I don't mean to give him any more trouble. He studies my face. He smiles back, slightly. He has rolled up his pant legs, for some reason. He also has on red kneesocks. As he prepares to leave the den of Dracula, Mrs. Kniessel explains that he slipped on his way to their house. He refused to relinquish his pants so she could wash and dry them, but he accepted a pair of red kneesocks. She is also giving him a dirty white jacket, what she calls "a spare parka--just an old thing" to wear home. Zipped into it, he looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy in lederhosen. Amid thanks and wishes for their son's speedy recovery, we start down the walk.

    "You find it?" he says, when we are both seated in the car.

    "No, but it can't go anywhere," I say. "Listen: I want to apologize. Sometimes adults get upset about things they can't articulate themselves, and tonight when--"

    "What's 'articulate'?" he says.

    "It just means to speak. But what I'm trying to say is that sometimes people don't know themselves what's bothering them, and they--"

    "It's okay," he says. "We've got to find Freddie, though. I didn't tell them he got out."

    "Well, that was good you didn't upset them," I say.

    "I slid the door back and he jumped out."

    I nod. It doesn't matter how the ferret got out.

    "Where's Dad?" he says.

    "He's installing kitchen cabinets for those people who had their house renovated. The English lady who leaves those long phone messages we always roll our eyes over."

    "Oh yeah," he says. "The lady who says, 'One feels.' " His English accent isn't bad. "Hey, why don't we go over there?" he says. "I want to see what it looks like."

    Without further discussion, we head for the big Tudor. It's only five minutes away, but it's up a private drive, not visible from the street. I remember where it is because there's an organic nursery next to it, where I bought herbs in the spring.

    "Hey, that movie was really cool," he says.

    "I wouldn't tell your father that you were watching Dracula until ten-thirty," I say.

    "I wouldn't either," he says.

    I look at him. He often responds to things instantly, with a very adult tone. But he's eight years old. Still: it must have been traumatic to have his mother walk out on them. Even with Estelle to rely on, it must have been devastating.

    "Listen," I say, overcome with sympathy for him. "You like me, don't you?"

    "Yeah," he says warily. "So what?"

    "A couple of things. One is that I'm glad you like me, but I wish you wouldn't play so many tricks on me. It makes me feel bad sometimes. Like in the Blue Ridge."

    He looks out the window.


Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 1998-05-01:
The title story of this new collection from Beattie (My Life, Starring Dara Falcon, LJ 5/15/97) includes exquisitely drawn, completely believable portraits of three women ranging in age from three to 14 to 31. It is as beautiful, fully realized a story as this reviewer has ever read. "Dwarf House" is another satisfying tale that brilliantly evokes the collective pain of a family's dealing with one of its members being a dwarf. It successfully follows the dwarf's stuggle from childhood to adulthood, and the ending is both welcome and persuasive. Not all the stories are as satisfying; some have indeterminant endings close with a significant-sounding sentence or phrase that the reader is left to ponder‘or not. But the best of Beattie's stories should please any reader. For all fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/98.]‘Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1998-04-06:
Remarking in an author's note that the same first names keep popping up in her work, Beattie (My Life Starring Dara Falcon, 1997, etc.) writes that she "intended no linkage from story to story‘though there are a few in-jokes, of course." In fact, her stories are the in-jokes of an era. Since they first appeared in The New Yorker in the 1970s, her early chronicles of aimless youth, ambivalent love and fractured families have lost none of their wistful appeal or satirical bite. Neither has their author, as the eight new stories published here prove. To Beattie fans, her themes will be familiar. If the new work has a certain emphasis, it's surrogate parenthood. In the hilarious "Cosmos," a schoolteacher resists marriage to a man she met through a personals ad and takes guilty pleasure in exaggerating the foibles of his hyperactive, destructive little son for the amusement of her Japanese pupils. In the title story, a woman spends a week at an off-season Utah ski resort with her half-sister Janet "more or less looking after Janet's boyfriend's daughter, Lyric (fourteen), who is in turn looking after Janet's child, my niece, Nell (three)." The narrator's efforts to take care of the two girls‘thrown temporarily together, like their self-centered parents, more by bad luck than design‘are convincing, touching and (as always in Beattie's short fiction) funny. Re-reading the older work, one wishes that the 36-story collection were more comprehensive (one misses such gems as "Fancy Flights" or "Friends"), but this is a small complaint about a generous, very welcome volume of stories from one of the most influential masters of the form. (June)
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, April 1998
Kirkus Reviews, May 1998
Library Journal, May 1998
Washington Post, June 1998
Globe & Mail, July 1998
Washington Post, October 1999
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
Cosmosp. 3
Second Questionp. 38
Going Home with Uccellop. 51
The Siamese Twins Go Snorkelingp. 58
Zallap. 75
Ed and Dave Visit the Cityp. 82
The Four-Night Fightp. 90
Park Cityp. 100
Vermontp. 137
Wolf Dreamsp. 154
Dwarf Housep. 166
Snakes' Shoesp. 175
Secrets and Surprisesp. 185
Weekendp. 196
A Vintage Thunderbirdp. 211
Shiftingp. 226
The Lawn Partyp. 238
Coloradop. 251
Learning to Fallp. 273
The Cinderella Waltzp. 283
Jacklightingp. 300
Waitingp. 306
Desirep. 316
Greenwich Timep. 325
The Burning Housep. 335
Janusp. 351
In the White Nightp. 356
Heaven on a Summer Nightp. 361
Summer Peoplep. 368
Skeletonsp. 381
Where You'll Find Mep. 386
The Working Girlp. 403
In Amalfip. 410
What Was Minep. 421
Windy Day at the Reservoirp. 431
Imagine a Day at the End of Your Lifep. 474
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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