Walks with Men

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Overview

Ann Beattie arrived in New York young, observant and celebrated (as The New Yorker’s young fiction star) in one of the most compelling and creative eras of recent times. So does the protagonist of her intense new novella, Walks with Men.

It is 1980 in New York City, and Jane, a valedictorian fresh out of Harvard, strikes a deal with Neil, an intoxicating writer twenty years her senior. The two quickly become lovers, living together in a Chelsea brownstone, and Neil reveals the ...

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Walks with Men

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Overview

Ann Beattie arrived in New York young, observant and celebrated (as The New Yorker’s young fiction star) in one of the most compelling and creative eras of recent times. So does the protagonist of her intense new novella, Walks with Men.

It is 1980 in New York City, and Jane, a valedictorian fresh out of Harvard, strikes a deal with Neil, an intoxicating writer twenty years her senior. The two quickly become lovers, living together in a Chelsea brownstone, and Neil reveals the rules for a life well lived: If you take food home from a restaurant, don’t say it’s because you want leftovers for "the dog." Say that you want the bones for "a friend who does autopsies." If you can’t stand on your head (which is best), learn to do cartwheels. Have sex in airplane bathrooms. Wear only raincoats made in England. Neil’s certainties, Jane discovers, mask his deceptions. Her true education begins.

"One of our era’s most vital masters of the short form" (The Washington Post), Beattie brilliantly captures a time, a place and a style of engagement. Her voice is original and iconic.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Beattie (Follies) turns a clinical eye on young love in this moody period piece about Jane Jay Costner, who, just out of college in 1980, is given the opportunity to learn the ways of the world and of love from an older man. The affair is proposed as an intellectual experiment, and the reader cringes as young Jane becomes deeply involved with Neil, an older writer who is, predictably, married and no great catch besides. He offers a stream of pretentious aphorisms (“When you travel to Europe, never wear a fragrance from the country you're in”) that Jane initially admires but eventually distrusts. But even as her dislike for her lover grows, she becomes ever more entrenched. Beattie's talent as a prose stylist is evident: the sentences are gorgeous and there isn't a word out of place, but emotion is subdued to the point of aloofness, leaving the reader with little more than idle concern for Jane. Beattie effortlessly conjures 1980s New York, but the human terrain could be less muted. (June)
From the Publisher
“All women who have thought ‘run!’ — but did not run — will experience this book like a familiar dream. It's full of echoes and resonant fractures, and so beguiling in its eerie simplicity. I read it twice.”—Miranda July, author of No One Belongs Here More Than You
Kirkus Reviews
The 16th work of fiction by Beattie (Follies, 2005, etc.), which begins in 1980. Jane, recent Harvard valedictorian and already a semi-celebrity in literary circles, leaves rural Vermont (and a boyfriend who's in mid-metamorphosis from Ben the Juilliard-trained musician to a bedraggled mystic called Goodness) for New York, where she falls for a wealthy writer two decades older. Glib, commanding and unpredictable, Neil is a Svengali who promises to teach her the ways of the world. He tends to distill his wisdom into epigrams and truisms ("Don't use hair conditioner. Electricity is sexy"). Jane finds him intoxicating, and they become lovers. One day, in a scene Beattie works ingenious variations on later, Jane arrives home to find a pretty middle-aged woman waiting on the stoop. Neil is married, it turns out; his wife has discovered the affair and is leaving him. Jane dismisses him, too, but before long she's drawn back, a moth to the flamethrower. They marry, then spar with great verbal resourcefulness. Both have dry spells and successes (a screenwriting Oscar for Jane, books for Neil). But one day Neil leans across a cafe table, clutches Jane's hand and announces that he's going to disappear. Minutes later, he does-forever-and Jane is left holding the bag. Beattie hasn't lost her touch. She skillfully lays bare the anomie and self-destructiveness-and also the vulnerability-of talented youth, and her evocation of early-'80s Manhattan is spot-on. But the book seems diffuse, and the name-dropping and hints at semi-autobiography can make it seem like a vanity project or an outtake. Beattie's talent remains formidable, but this is pretty thin.
The Barnes & Noble Review

In Ann Beattie's Walks with Men, smart, young Jane Jay Costner arrives in New York fresh from Harvard and becomes involved with an older man, Neil, who promises to teach her about the world. When Jane discovers that Neil is married, it doesn't stop her. (Who amongst us hasn't been a fool for love?) Neil gets divorced, and Jane marries him.

"If you take food home from a restaurant, don't say it's for 'the dog,'" Neil instructs Jane in a typical Beattie koan-like aphorism. "Say you want the bones for 'a friend who does autopsies.'"

The book contains all the virtues and weaknesses we've come to expect from Beattie: subdued emotion, clever dialogue, the use of name brands to depict life's emptiness. "The La-Z-Boy is a piece of shit. He can tell from the way the footrest flapped down that it isn't going to come up again."

As Beattie herself did with the publication of her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, Jane becomes a successful writer and a spokeswoman for her generation. But she should have known better than to hitch her star to Neil's. He leaves her, of course, and she reacts with characteristic Beattie anomie. She burns his writing and attempts to scatter the ashes in her old boyfriend, Ben's, yard. (In another cloyingly cute Beattie touch, Ben became a guru named "Goodness" and was pushed under a subway car.)

Beattie is an admirable craftswoman, especially in her pithy dialogue. But at the end of the story, she leaves us hungry -- for at least some authorial insight into this flat account of Jane's aimless and impoverished life.

--Dinitia Smith

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439168691
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 6/8/2010
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 102
  • Sales rank: 430,117
  • Product dimensions: 7.42 (w) x 4.86 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann  Beattie

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

Biography

After publishing several stories in The New Yorker, Ann Beattie burst on the literary scene in 1976 with not one, but two books -- a collection of short fiction entitled Distortions and a critically acclaimed debut novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter. Almost immediately, she was proclaimed the unofficial diarist of an entire generation, evoking the lives of feckless, young, middle-class baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s yet never really grew up, choosing instead to lug around their dashed expectations like so much excess baggage.

Indeed, Beattie's fiction is filled with such unhappy characters -- intelligent, well-educated people whose lives are steeped in disappointment and a vague sense of despair. Failed relationships, nostalgia for the past, and the inability to reconcile youthful idealism with the demands of adult life are recurring themes in short story collections like Secrets and Surprises (1978), What Was Mine (1991), and Park City (1998), as well as novels such as Falling in Place (1981), Love Always (1985), and Another You (1995).

Yet, Beattie vehemently denies that she set out to chronicle an era or to describe a particular demographic. ''I do not wish to be a spokesperson for my generation,'' she told The New York Times in 1985. She explained further (in the literary magazine Ploughshares) that she simply wrote about the people who surrounded her -- refugees from the '60s, bewildered by the real world and longing to return to the seductive counterculture of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

A writer of spare, elegant, whip-smart prose, Beattie has been classified as a minimalist, a label she rejects as reductive. In many ways, though, her writing fits the bill. Her stories, like those of minimalism's famous poster boy (and Beattie's good friend) Raymond Carver, are composed of simple, declarative sentences teeming with irony and finely observed detail; also like Carver, she is a nonjudgmental narrator, completely detached from her characters and their actions and meting out contextual clues to be interpreted by the reader. However, as she has matured as a writer, she has traded in strict minimalism for a more realistic style, endowing her characters with emotions (and something of an inner life!) and rendering her fiction more fully "human."

Occasionally, Beattie has come under attack for loading her stories with brand names and pop culture references. But even this use of "Kmart realism" seems not to have dimmed her light. Reviewing her 2008 anthology Follies for The New York Times, David Means had this to say: "[W]hen Beattie's work is clicking her stories are wonderful to behold. Her best work ... will endure long after so much of what we know now -- the brand names, television shows and quick-shop stores -- is gone."

Good To Know

Beattie's first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, was adapted into a film by Joan Micklin Silver starring John Heard and Mary Beth Hurt. It was first released in 1979 as Head Over Heels with an unsatisfying, tacked-on happy ending. Audiences were lukewarm. In 1982, the movie was re-released under the novel's title and with an ending that matched the book. This version was a success.

Beattie is married to the painter Lincoln Perry. In 2005 the two collaborated on a retrospective of Perry's paintings entitled Lincoln Perry's Charlottesville, boasting a long essay and interview by Beattie.

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

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 7, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I really hate giving books low star reviews, but sometimes it ha

    I really hate giving books low star reviews, but sometimes it happens. Honestly, I have no idea what this novella is trying to accomplish. I feel that the writing is sloppy along with the characterization and plot structure. One moment we're in the 80's and in the next we're in the present time? I feel that the message of the story is completely lost. Some clever quotes and philosophical comments are peppered in throughout the pages. It still doesn't change my experience reading it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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