‘Heaven On A Summer Night’ by Ann Beattie


Heaven On A Summer Night by Ann Beattie, 1983

The magic trick:

Putting the kids at the center of the story at first, only to reveal later the true meaning

The story seems to be about be about the young folks – Will and Kate. They’re the ones with the juicy plot details. But the story isn’t really about them. It’s about Mrs. Camp. Maybe it’s obvious all along. I didn’t catch on until a sly little passage that suggests Mrs. Camp is noticing Will’s tan body. It’s not gross. She’s not lusting for the young man whose diapers she used to change. It’s just an indication to both her and the reader that Mrs. Camp’s youth is gone. She is living vicariously through these kids. Her life is about them. Cleverly ironic then that the story obscures this point early on by making the kids the focal points. And that’s quite a trick on Beattie’s part.

The selection:

As she drove, Mrs. Camp wondered if Will had been serious when he said to Kate that Frank was joking. She was sure Will slept with girls. (Will was not there to rephrase her thoughts. He always referred to young girls as women.) He must have understood that general anxiety or dread Frank had been feeling, and he must also have known that sex wouldn’t diminish it. It was also possible that Will was only trying to appear uninterested because Kate’s frank talk embarrassed him. “Frank talk” was a pun. Those children had taught her so much.

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