Monday, September 26, 2011

The Morning Reading: Anne Beattie: "Best of luck with your future."

from the Paris Review archives:


INTERVIEWER: How do you normally start your stories—with a phrase, a character?

BEATTIE: It usually starts with an image. “Hoodie in Xanadu,” for instance, was written about someone who was renting directly across the street from me in Key West last year. He would come out in his hoodie and look left and right, standing right in the middle of the street. Eventually I figured out that he was buying drugs. That wasn’t of interest, but what he might be as a character interested me. It’s usually something that has caught my attention like that—as opposed to my suddenly discovering some potential in, say, that palm tree over there.

INTERVIEWER: Does a story ever start with a piece of dialogue?

BEATTIE: Often hearing the characters talk clarifies something to me about who they are. That information doesn’t always have to be in the final version. A couple of times dialogue has brought a short story to an immediate stop. It was true in “The Burning House.” When the husband expressed his innermost thoughts at the end, I thought, Well, you just lost that story, Beattie. Then after a long time of sitting there defeated, staring stupidly at the typing ­paper, I gave him one final line that was exactly the point at which I had to end. I so much didn’t want to hear one more word from him that I almost didn’t play fair and let him end the story.

INTERVIEWER: That speech is remarkable:

“Everything you’ve done is commendable,” he says. “You did the right thing to go back to school. You tried to do the right thing by finding yourself a normal friend like Marilyn. But your whole life you’ve made one mistake—you’ve surrounded yourself with men. Let me tell you something. All men—if they’re crazy, like Tucker, if they’re gay as the Queen of the May, like Reddy Fox, even if they’re just six years old—I’m going to tell you something about them. Men think they’re Spider-Man and Buck Rogers and Superman. You know what we all feel inside that you don’t feel? That we’re going to the stars.”

He takes my hand. “I’m looking down on all of this from space,” he whispers. “I’m already gone.”

BEATTIE: “All your life you’ve surrounded yourself with men”—that was told to me point blank, by a friend who really meant to enlighten me. And I was enlightened. “Superman is part of the consciousness,” he also said. Roger Angell fine-tuned the analogies.

People commend me on that speech all the time. Women come up to me at readings and they have that speech cut out and it’s in their wallets where they used to have pictures of their husbands and children. I find myself saying, “But don’t you think that husband was rather disturbed?” I’ve had people write to me, “I read your story and suddenly it all came clear to me and I’ve left my husband and I’m in a downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming, motel and what do I do next?”

INTERVIEWER: What do you write back?

BEATTIE:“Best of luck with your future.”


To rest the interview in its entirety, click here.


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