Where You’ll Find Me by Ann Beattie, 1986
The magic trick:
Setting up the story with the feel of a stage production
This story is as much a play as it is a story. We have a fairly large cast of characters. They come in and out of the scene. They tell funny stories. They’re witty and poignant. They’re full of unhappiness and don’t seem to be capable of taking any action at all that might solve that unhappiness. Even the setting – a family Christmas gathering – is perfectly suited for the stage.
Maybe that’s why even with all the stress of the modern world in this story, all the amoral decision-making, it still feels warm and comfortable. It’s like a weird, off-kilter 1980s holiday pageant. And that’s quite a trick on Beattie’s part.
For the Christmas party tonight, there are cherry tomatoes halved and stuffed with peaks of cheese, mushrooms stuffed with pureed tomatoes, tomatoes stuffed with chopped mushrooms and mushrooms stuffed with cheese. Kate is laughing in the kitchen. “No one’s going to notice,” she mutters. “No one’s going to say anything.”
“Why don’t we put out some nuts?” Howard says.
“Nuts are so conventional. This is funny,” Kate says, squirting more soft cheese out of the pastry tube.
“Last year we had mistletoe and mulled cider.”
“Last year we lost our sense of humor. What happened that we got all hyped up? We even ran out on Christmas tree – ”
“The kids,” Howard says.
“That’s right,” she says. “The kids were crying. They were competitive with the other kids, or something.”
“Becky was crying. Todd was too young to cry about that,” Howard says.