In The White Night by Ann Beattie, 1984
The magic trick:
Showing restraint and keeping the focus on the low-key details in telling the story of something tragic and extraordinarily emotional
This week, we test logic at SSMT. The logic goes like this: No one is forcing me to read these stories or write these magic trick posts. Therefore, I certainly should read stories I like. I do not particularly enjoy Ann Beattie’s fiction.
So why then, you ask, is this Ann Beattie Week on the website?
I don’t know. I got the book at the library. I liked the first story I read and kept going. So here we are, logic be damned.
That first story is “In The White Night.” It builds to a lovely image in the closing scene of the married couple collapsed on top of each other in a heap of fatigue. The image resonates because the rest of the story has done its job. It details the couple’s attempts at maintaining a normal, happy life following the death of their young daughter.
Such a scenario is extraordinary and loaded with extreme emotions. But “In The White Night” is relatively low key, which only makes the couple’s plight all the more real and heartbreaking. And that’s quite a trick on Beattie’s part.
Vernon lay stretched out on the sofa with his legs crossed; one foot was planted on the floor and his top foot dangled in the air. Even when he was exhausted, he was always careful not to let his shoes touch the sofa without resting his head on the arm. For some reason, he had not hung up her jacket. It was spread like a tent over his head and shoulders, rising and falling with his breathing. She stood still long enough to be sure that he was really asleep, and then came into the room. The sofa was too narrow to curl up on with him. She didn’t want to wake him. Neither did she want to go to bed alone. She went back to the hall closet and took out his overcoat – the long, elegant camel’s-hair coat he had not worn tonight because he thought it might snow. She slipped off her shoes and went quietly over to where he lay and stretched out on the floor beside the sofa, pulling the big blanket of the coat up high, until the collar touched her lips. The she drew her legs up into the warmth.
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