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Follies: New Stories

Follies: New Stories

by Ann Beattie

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A four-time O. Henry Prize winner, Ann Beattie is a masterful observer of domestic relations and the idiosyncratic logic that governs human lives. In Follies, her most resonant collection, she looks at baby boomers in their maturity, sorting out their own lives and struggling with parents who are eccentric, unpredictable, and increasingly dependent. She is


A four-time O. Henry Prize winner, Ann Beattie is a masterful observer of domestic relations and the idiosyncratic logic that governs human lives. In Follies, her most resonant collection, she looks at baby boomers in their maturity, sorting out their own lives and struggling with parents who are eccentric, unpredictable, and increasingly dependent. She is at the top of her form, writing with the vividness, compassion, and sometimes morbid wit that have made her one of the most influential writers of a generation.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Beattie is a shrewd observer of human nature and one of the best short story writers alive." — The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Ann Beattie is one of our era's most vital masters of the short form." — The Washington Post Book World

"Beattie has a keen eye for love's fault lines, for our missed signals and hidden motives." — More

"Beattie's style works brilliantly — as, seeming only to report the events of an evening, she reveals the essence of her tale." — The Atlantic Monthly

"The stories of Follies shine with the insights of time." — Los Angeles Times

Michiko Kakutani
Happily enough, with Follies Ms. Beattie has hit her stride again, creating some of her most resonant fiction since the early 90's. With the exception of one egregious story ("Apology for a Journey Not Taken," a chronicle of a ditsy narrator's ditsy efforts to find ditsy excuses for not taking a trip), which reads like a parody of an early Ann Beattie story, the tales in this volume showcase a newly flexible voice that accommodates both the author's patented gift for social observation and her more recent interest in her characters' inner lives, a voice that allows her to move fluently back and forth in time, back and forth from memory to rumination.
— The New York Times
David Means
Follies may be hit or miss, but when Beattie's work is clicking her stories are wonderful to behold. Her best work (and this includes some of the stories here) will endure long after so much of what we know now -- the brand names, television shows and quick-shop stores -- is gone.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Odd but subtle coincidences, missed connections, strained family relations these are the major dynamics in Beattie's latest collection of nine stories and a novella. In the latter, Flechette Follies, a random accident George Wissone rear-ends Nancy Gregerson at a stoplight in Charlottesville, Va., sparks a connection that affects far-flung people. Nancy's troubled son is MIA in London, and she hires George (whom she correctly guesses to be in the CIA) to track him down. When George himself disappears, it affects not only Nancy but also George's on-again, off-again girlfriend and others who join forces to learn his fate. Beattie's stories of adult children attempting to make sense of their aging parents and their own relationships are also compelling. In Find and Replace, a woman tries to comprehend her mother's decision to suddenly move in with another man following the death of her husband; The Rabbit Hole as Likely Explanation spools out the strained relations between two siblings after their mother has a stroke. While a few stories read more like extended vignettes, Beattie's trademarks are here: the careful language, the deft humor and the sad, slow sweetness of life winding its way on. Fans should be happy to find that after all these years, this esteemed writer's characters can still be expected to muse over life's ironies and find no easy conclusions. Agent, Lynn Nesbit. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Aging baby boomers as only Beattie can present them; with a three-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Beattie's seventh collection explores middle age and generational conflict in an edgy novella and nine stories of varying intensity and excellence. The novella ("Flechette Follies") depicts the fallout from a fender-bender involving middle-aged Charlottesville divorcee Nancy Gregerson and out-of-towner George Wissone. Beattie gradually fills us in on each character's thwarted life: Nancy's demanding job as an old-people's home nurse and estrangement from her compulsive screw-up adult son, and George's relationship-destroying employment in a covert government operation ("the rescue of rich Americans who got themselves in trouble" overseas). The novella form suits Beattie's practice of defining characters through their relationships, habits and possessions-and when Nancy hires Wissone to find her missing son, the story branches out in several tense and revelatory directions. The briefer tales are decidedly mixed. Forced zaniness yields middling results in a male college student's account of his employment by an eccentric professor with a mother who probably went to school with Auntie Mame ("Duchais") and a solitary woman writer's ditsy "Apology for a Journey Not Taken: How to Write a Story." The latter figure appears variously, as an adult recalling "The Garden Game" of childhood visits to relatives that soothed the pain of her parents' separation; as a Roman tourist, sublimating an unwanted family obligation into a fantasized romance ("Mostre"); and in a memorable tale ("The Rabbit Hole as Likely Explanation") of its middle-aged narrator's dealings with her elderly mother's snappish temper and wandering mind (a beauty of a story, featuring a delicate blend of black-comic dialogue andrestrained sentiment). Best is "That Last Odd Day in L.A.," as lived by an aging man separated from loved ones by " his sarcasm and his comic asides and his endless equivocating," redeemed by his searching intelligence and generous imagination. When Beattie is this good, she's essential reading. When she isn't, it's the usual mixed bag.

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Read an Excerpt

Fléchette Follies

When the accident occurred, George Wissone was returning from an errand. Among the things he'd bought was a plastic container of paper clips that flew open when he slammed on the brake. Paper clips fell from his hair as he opened the door to see what damage he'd done to the car he'd rear-ended. He winced and avoided looking at the front fender of his own rental car. Most of all, he wished no one to be hurt. He was surprised to see blood between his thumb and first finger, though he had felt the key's serrated edge as he'd pulled it clumsily from the ignition. Unlike him to do things clumsily, but there would be plenty of time to introspect later. The woman did, indeed, seem to be hurt.

Being hit from behind at a red light was the last thing she needed, so she had dropped her head to her hands, which tightly clutched the top of the wheel. She was late for work, and the day before her son had called from England to say that he would not be coming home for Christmas. So much for her excuse not to work both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at the nursing home. She finally met his eyes, but only for a second, after deciding he was not really injured. She was a round-faced woman with broad shoulders and a nervous-seeming overbite. Cars were swerving around them. Soon -- when he got to know Charlottesville (to the extent that he got to know any place) -- he would curse the unmannerly drivers of rush hour like everyone else.

He should not have taken a double dose of Contac and then operated "heavy machinery" -- such as a Geo Metro could be dignified as representing "heavy machinery." She sat there, jaw set, not opening the door tostep out. He looked back at his car and saw that he had left the door ajar. It was in danger of being sideswiped by irritated motorists, one of whom had the nerve to hit the horn as he -- make that she -- blared past.

"Wouldn't you know it," the woman muttered. "Are you hurt?"

"I'm awfully sorry," he said. "I wasn't thinking."

"Beer for lunch?" she said. "Did you think about domestic, or no: you'd go for imported, right?"


The next car that swerved toward them was a police car. He saw a German shepherd in the back. A dog he'd never liked, along with Dobermans. Of course, he didn't like pit bulls, either. He had been driving west. The sun, which gave no heat, burned his eyes. He tried to wince it away, fixing his gaze on the police car's blue light as it pulled in behind his car. Did German shepherds have blue eyes? As a boy he'd had a mutt that was part shepherd: a dog with one blue-flecked eye, the other brown.

He had not had beer at lunch. He had not had a drink of any sort for more than four years. Another car with a dog inside passed. The dog eyed the scene, moving in the backseat.

"My job." The woman had finally left her car to talk to the policeman. Apparently she had the habit of loudly articulating the last words of sentences. "Doesn't he have a business card, so we can talk about this later?" she said, as if he couldn't answer for himself. "He plowed into me when I was stopped for the light." She was holding her business card between two fingers, as if it were usually clipped there. The cop reached out and took it. She said, "I think this man has been drinking."

"That hand okay?" the cop said, looking at the smear of blood on his jacket pocket. He had said something to the woman, first, but George hadn't heard it. Even she might not have understood, the wind had come up so strong. In a big tree, someone had hung wind chimes. Metal tinkled like toy swords.

"People overreact to blood," the woman said. "Blood, and tears. If it's a new mother, she overreacts to shit."

The cop turned his full attention to the woman, taking one step forward with a quizzical expression.

The cop was holding both of their licenses. He seemed to take George's word for the fact that he was driving a rental car, that the registration was in the glove compartment. George supposed you could tell a car was a rental from the license, though it had been so long since he'd rented a car, he wasn't sure about that. In any case, the cop obviously had no intention of seeing whether he could walk a straight line. "I don't want to make more of this than necessary," the cop said to the woman. "No need to waste time we don't got."

He watched silently as the cop returned the woman's registration and license. Her insurance company would talk to his insurance company. Surely he had an insurance company, though that would be a bit of trivia he'd never know. There were many things it was pleasant not to have to think about. On the other hand, it would have been nice to have some input about what rental car had been reserved for him.

The cop unwrapped some gum and folded it over, placing it in his mouth. He looked at both of them. It was obvious he knew neither would like a stick.

The driver of the other car was Nancy Gregerson -- Gregerson having been her married name. Her maiden name, not resumed after the divorce, was Shifflett. The town was full of Shiffletts, so why add to their ranks? She had been divorced for twenty years, and her last name no longer reminded her of Edward Gregerson. A couple of Beatles songs did, and the way the corners of her son's mouth tightened sometimes brought his face to mind, but his last name? Not at all.

She had driven away saying, "Late to work," and she realized she was being obnoxious, but couldn't help herself. She put in a full shift at Dolly Madison House without taking a break (Jenny, the nurses' aide, was six months pregnant; she let her have the time). By the time an hour had passed, she felt slightly chagrined that she'd been so unkind to the man who'd hit her. Her instincts about who'd been drinking and who hadn't weren't always right; she tended to overestimate how many people were alcohol dependent. They made the staff watch so many films about drunks and smokers -- how could she think otherwise? One recent film had been a very unfunny cartoon, and an equally humorless visiting cardiologist had pointed a laser pen at a drunken elephant on the screen as if he were making rounds with his interns and an elephant just happened to be sprawled in the bed, like any other patient.

She punched out, sorry that her son wouldn't be home for Christmas. He was an unhappy young man who expected too much from his ability to draw recognizable figures. He had been painting in London for almost two years. For a while he had lived with two other would-be painters, but as often happened in his life, they decamped and went elsewhere. One had moved to a room in someone's house. The other moved in with his girlfriend. Was that it? In any case, Nicky was there, stuck with the rent. When he'd flown in to Dulles the year before, he'd stayed only three days, and he'd spent the entire time brooding about his former girlfriend, who'd moved to Lexington. Should he visit her? Should he not? Sitting in Nancy's favorite chair, his big feet in his Doc Martens dirtying her little needlepoint footstool as he mentally plucked the anxiety daisy.

Though she alternated among several routes home, this evening she decided to take the same road on which she'd been involved in the accident earlier. There was a spritz of ice in the wind: enough to scrabble at the glass for a second before it melted. The road curved, and she realized she'd been following a van too closely. Icy road, tailgating...she might plow into somebody herself, and wouldn't that be ironic. An SUV sat at the curb, and just past it a tree, lit by a floodlight above it. She turned in to a driveway and walked back to where she'd been. She saw something glinting in the street, but since she'd inspected her own car carefully, she didn't much care what had broken on his. She remembered it as a crummy little car, and thought that was about right: that was what he'd be driving. She bent to see what sparkled on the asphalt, and saw paper clips scattered there. She picked up one but left the others; they would not be a clue for her insurance company. In fact, they seemed so ordinary that she felt even sorrier that she had been so unkind to him. She'd come to believe that everywhere in the world, a little something was out of place, all the time. Like one of the old ladies on floor three: you'd find a glove pulled onto one of their feet, their shoe somewhere across the room. The poinsettia's red leaves on the floor, as if a cat had attacked a cardinal. At lunch, you might see a lipstick tube dropped on their plate, shiny among the vegetables, relinquished, at last, from their fist, or even a snapshot, disguised in the folds of a skirt, pulled out and placed on the food like a trump card.

She stopped at a convenience store for Taster's Choice and milk. A young man in front of her reminded her of her son: slouched into his own body, big black motorcycle boots, ugly tattoo of some bird that couldn't become extinct soon enough etched on his forearm. He looked through her as he pocketed his change and walked past. He was someone's son -- one who either would or would not be going home for Christmas.

Copyright © 2005 by Irony and Pity, Inc.

Meet the Author

Ann Beattie has been included in four O. Henry Award Collections, in John Updike’s The Best American Short Stories of the Century, and in Jennifer Egan’s The Best American Short Stories 2014. In 2000, she received the PEN/Malamud Award for achievement in the short story. In 2005, she received the Rea Award for the Short Story. She was the Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. She is a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She and her husband, Lincoln Perry, live in Maine and Key West, Florida.

Brief Biography

Maine and Key West, Florida
Date of Birth:
September 8, 1947
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A., American University, 1969; M.A., University of Connecticut, 1970

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