From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The New Yorker and the World (4)—FIction: Ann Beattie: A Platonic Relationship

One year ago on Round and Square (15 September 2011)—Remonstrance: The Aesthetics of Remonstrance
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "The New Yorker and the World"
[a] Platonic RF
Over the next few months, I plan to post a little bit of the "content" from the first-year seminar I am teaching on "The New Yorker and the World." I will introduce several writers—fiction and nonfiction—and will give at least a snippet from the pages of the magazine, along with some of the context that I give while teaching the material. The next few days will feature some of the fiction writers who brought fresh perspective to The New Yorker short story in the 1970s and 1980s.

You will soon notice that there is nothing chronological about these posts. I write about authors as I think of them. Every one of these first dozen (or so) posts for our "The New Yorker and the World" series will cover writers who changed the magazine in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. You will notice that the 1970s dominate here, and that has only a little bit to do with my own personal history. I first started reading The New Yorker in the spring of 1974, when my high school English teacher, Mr. Fox, assigned short stories from current editions of The New Yorker in our classes at Northfield (Minnesota) High School. It was another year before I actually had a subscription of my own, and Ann Beattie's first story in the magazine falls in that "liminal" period between first hearing about The New Yorker and starting my own subscription. Whole bunches of stuff happened in that year, including the initial fictions of many writers who did not at all "fit" the stereotypical New Yorker story.
[b] Platon-duck RF

Ann Beattie was one of these, and I read her first piece in the magazine. Many more would follow.

Mr. Fox was responsible for my introduction to Ann Beattie. He assigned "A Platonic Relationship" in the spring of 1974, and I was more than a little bit intrigued. I recognized a "voice" that was far more involved in the story than those that were familiar to me. We'll deal soon enough with stories from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. I am not one to condemn them—not at all, in fact (fiction). They are beautiful, and some of those 1950s and 1960s authors (Updike, Roth, Cheever, and others) kept on developing and publishing for years and years and years. None of that could change the excitement that Ann Beattie created. She burst onto the pages of The New Yorker and she never really left. As Ben Yagoda has noted, she has imitators all over the country...and the world.[1] Very few of them ever saw the pages of America's most famous magazine, but Beattie just kept cranking away, and today a volume sits on the bookshelves called The New Yorker Stories. It has all of 'em.

She is one of the most prolific authors in the last third-century, and this is her first
New Yorker story. By chance—dumb luck—I was there when it happened.

     Ann Beattie
     A Platonic Relationship (1974)
     When Ellen was told that she would be hired as a music teacher at the high 
     school, she decided that it did not mean that she would have to look like the 
     other people on the faculty. She would tuck her hair neatly behind her ears, 
     instead of letting it fall free, schoolgirlishly. She had met some of the teachers 
     when she went for her interview, and they all seemed to look like what she 
     was trying to get away from—suburbanites at a shopping center. Casual and 
     airy, the fashion magazines would call it. At least, that's what they would have 
     called it back when she still read them, when she lived in Chevy Chase and 
     wore her hair long, falling free, the way it had fallen in her high-school 
     graduation picture. "Your lovely face," her mother used to say, "and all covered 
     by hair." Her graduation picture was still on display in her parents' house, next 
     to a picture of her on her first birthday.

     It didn't matter how Ellen looked now; the students laughed at her behind her 
     back. They laughed behind all the teachers' backs. They don't like me, Ellen  
     thought, and she didn't want to go to school. She forced herself to to, because 
     she needed the job. She had worked hard to get away from her lawyer 
     husband and almost-paid-for house. She had doggedly taken night classes 
     at Georgetown University for two years, leaving the dishes after dinner and 
     always expecting a fight. Her husband loaded them into the dishwasher—no 
     fight. Finally, when she was ready to leave, she had to start the fight herself.
     There is a better world, she told him. "Teaching at a high school?" he asked. 

     In the end, though, he had helped her find a place to live—an older house, on 
     a side street off Florida Avenue, with splintery floors that had to be covered 
     with rugs, and walls that needed to be repapered but that she never repapered. 
     He hadn't made trouble for her. Instead, he made her look silly. He made her 
     say that teaching high school was a better world. She saw the foolishness of 
     her statement, however, and after she left him she began to read great numbers 
     of newspapers and magazines. She had dinner with her husband several months 
     after she left him, at their old house. During dinner, she stated several ideas of 
     importance, without citing her source. He listened carefully, crossing his knees 
     and nodding attentively—the pose he always assumed with his clients. The only 
     time during the evening she had thought he might start a fight was when she told 
     him she was living with a man—a student, twelve years younger than she. An 
     odd expression came across his face. In retrospect, she realized that he must 
     have been truly puzzled. She quickly told him that the relationship was platonic.[2]
That's Ann Beattie. She wove fictions about changing American families, and never let easy solutions seep into her narratives. She just kept deepening and widening the swath of her fictional command. Beattie is one of those rare authors who make a splash when young...and just keep on producing into middle age...and beyond.
[c] Platon RF
[1] Ben Yagoda, About Town: The New Yorker and the World it Made (New York: Scribner, 2000), 384-385.
[2] Ann Beattie, “A Platonic Relationship,” The New Yorker, April 8, 1974, 42-46. 

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