Likely Stories: The Accomplished Guest by Ann Beattie

Sep 21, 2017

A collection of stories involving visitors, wanderers, and assorted interesting characters. 


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

In celebration of the eighth birthday of Likely Stories, I return to a writer I have admired for many years.  First: a confession.  Back in 1986, or thereabouts, I learned of a lecture by Ann Beattie—at the time one of my most favorite writers—at Rutgers-Camden.  I tried to get a ticket, but found it was sold out.  So I devised a plan to see her before the lecture.  I convinced a guard I was a stringer for a local paper in Philly who wanted to snag a few comments before her talk.  I had three of Beattie’s books with me, and after asking a number of questions, I took the books out of a bag and asked her to inscribe them.  She graciously signed all three.  I resolved to tell her in person if I ever met up with her.  This might be as close as I get.

Ann Beattie has been included in four O. Henry Award collections, John Updike’s Best American Short Stories of the Century and Jennifer Egan’s Best Short Stories of 2014.  She has also captured numerous other awards.  Her latest book, The Accomplished Guest is a collection of short stories with a variety of themes, voices, and situations.  While I admire her novels a great deal, I never miss an opportunity to delve into her short fiction.  I have a pile of anthologies, and revisiting writers I like and discovering new nuggets of literature fill in those little gaps between novels.

Some of these visitors had interesting experiences getting to their destination.  In “The Indian Uprising,” Beattie wrote, “I took the train.  It wasn’t difficult.  I got a ride with a friend to some branch of the Metro going into Washington and rode into Union Station.  Then I walked forever down the train track to a car someone finally let me on.  I felt like an ant that had walked the length of a caterpillar’s body and ended up at its anus.  I sat across from a mother with a small son whose head she abused any time she got bored looking out the window: swatting it with plush toys; rearranging his curls; inspecting him for nits” (4-5).  One of the most appealing traits of a Beattie story is the attention to details.  Readers can easily place themselves in the train.

In “The Astonished Woodchopper,” Beattie explores those ubiquitous “little white lies” we all tell.  She writes, “John had asked Jen not to tell Bee the details of his surgery, but of course she had—no doubt also cautioning Bee to lie if he asked her directly what she knew.  White lies: as prevalent in this family as white noise on the highway that drifted across the meadow toward their house.  He had wanted a more secluded house; Jen had said she like to be nearer to what she called ‘civilization’—the same environment she now damned as being filled with ‘idiot tourists and Maine-iacs in their tortoise shell SUVs, driving lunatics because they can’t imagine they go belly-up.’  Just the week before, a man had died, not at all protected by his SUV as it rolled” (51). 

These thirteen stories have lots of fun and page upon page of humor.  Her writing seems effortless, and Her characters all ring as true and clear as any reader could hope for.  I really think Ann Beattie is an author who deserves much more attention.  The Accomplished Guest is a grand beginning for many years of reading pleasure.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  And happy reading!