‘Times’ by Ann Beattie

Times by Ann Beattie, 1983

The magic trick:

Inadvertently recreating the selfish 80s through sheer obliviousness

There is a genre of story apparently prominent in the 1980s wherein there is no sense of irony whatsoever surrounding the rich WASPy lifestyle being flaunted. Me? My tastes would prefer a feeling of embarrassment, perhaps even apology. I’d settle for the mere acknowledgement of the tremendous white privilege that serves as the foundation of the world highlighted in these stories. It is a world where education and taste are entitlements; spirituality is a trite relic of a bygone era; and money is no object.

Instead, authors like Ann Beattie, write with an assumption that either you understand this world or you want to understand this world. Certainly, it is assumed that we accept this world as some kind of ideal.

It’s only with that attitude as a starting point that you could write a story like “Times,” a story where the only narrative movement involves the realization that a marriage that defines progressive sophistication as one that allows for the occasional sexual extracurricular might wind up causing pain and ennui.

Who’d have thought?

It’s a story that could only be borne of a remarkable lack of self-awareness. Which I salute. Inadvertently, this kind of story couldn’t be more representative of its time and place. And that’s quite a trick on Beattie’s part. 

The selection:

A couple of months before the last trip to her parents’ – Christmas a year ago – Peter had waked her up one night to tell her about a young woman he had had a brief affair with. He described his feelings about being with the woman – how much he liked it when she put her hand over his when they sat at a table in a restaurant; the time she had dissipated some anger of his by suddenly putting her lips to the deepening lines of his forehead, to kiss his frown away. Then Peter had wept onto Cammy’s pillow. She could still remember his face – the only time she had ever seen him cry – and how red and swollen it was, as if it had been burned.

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