Friday, 5 September 2008
Distortions by Ann Beattie
i just finished reading Distortions by Ann Beattie. i had a lot of trouble finding a copy of it. it was maybe out of print or unable to be imported into the UK, but i was very kindly given a copy when i went to New York. it has taken me a long time to read, not because i didn't like it, but because i was trying to make it last as long as i could. i've just been looking at Ann Beattie's wikipedia page. she was 29 when Distortions was published. reading the stories, i felt like she had a 'complete' idea of humans, of lots of different humans, in different situations. i can't help but compare myself to people i read. reading Ann Beattie made me want to write stories and simultaneously give up writing altogether. it also made me wish i could have met Ann Beattie when she was 29, and just hang out with her. sometimes i've met people who wrote thing i've liked, and felt 'inferior' as a human being, and kind of short-circuited any possible conversation, by thinking, 'nothing you could say will be of interest to this person,' or, 'quick, try and think of something interesting to say,' making my mind go blank. i don't feel like that would happen with Ann Beattie, maybe because it doesn't seem like her 'pose' in Distortions is one of 'i am more interesting than you will ever be'. i don't think she has a 'pose', even. she just seems kind of sad and interested in people and finds them funny but not in a condescending way. i think in 1976 Ann Beattie would recognise my nervousness, and very subtly try and steer the conversation around to something we could both talk about equally. probably not about writing. i would not even know she was taking control of the conversation. i would still probably feel intense paranoia after the meeting with Ann Beattie, thinking things like, 'that was good, but a one-off; she probably thinks i'm an arse.' i would probably then fuck up any chance of me and Ann Beattie becoming friends, due to the paranoia that she wouldn't actually want to be friends with me. we would bump into each other, about half a year later, maybe, and have an awkward conversation, and that would be the end of my 'dalliance' with Ann Beattie.
imagined meeting with Ann Beattie in 1976:
we meet at a small diner. it's raining. Ann Beattie is already sat at a booth. she doesn't look like she got rained on. there are two cups of coffee in front of Ann Beattie. one is completely empty, the other is half-empty. i am on time for the meeting. 'Ann Beattie must have arrived quite a while ago,' i think. Ann Beattie doesn't notice me at first, because it is 1976 and i am minus-five-years-old. i am just a small, half-invisible thing, shaped like a kidney bean. i am floating around at eye-level, and don't have the power of speech.
Ann Beattie recognises me once i am fully floated up to the table. 'Hey!' she says. 'You made it.'
i move myself backwards and forwards in a kind of nod.
'Want something to drink?' Ann Beattie says.
i awkwardly nod again, almost. i don't have a mouth or a way of drinking things, but i don't want to offend Ann Beattie. she's smiling a lot, but looks tired too, as if the smile is more for my benefit -- to make me feel comfortable -- than because she is happy about anything. she has long curly hair, like on her book jacket, and is wearing a plaid shirt. she is in black and white, like on her book jacket.
Ann Beattie waves to a waitress and asks for a very small cup of coffee. 'For my friend here,' she says, 'maybe a thimble or something?' and the waitress smiles and says she'll see what they can do.
i hover in the opposite side of the booth from Ann Beattie.
Distortions and Chilly Scenes of Winter have both just been published. Ann Beattie must be in quite a whirl. she looks, outwardly, quite calm and a bit bored and sad. i want to ask her something about Distortions or Chilly Scenes of Winter but i panic and can't think of anything to say that she probably hasn't heard a million times already.
Ann Beattie looks out of the window and yawns.
i panic that she's bored. i wish i was older, with a fully functioning body and the ability to speak.
the waitress comes back with a saucer. it has a thin film of black coffee in it.
'It's the best we could do,' the waitress says, grinning sheepishly, and Ann Beattie smiles graciously back at her.
i have an idea: i could dip myself in the saucer and write a question on the table top, maybe. so i float down towards the saucer. i can feel Ann Beattie watching me. i dip the bottom end of myself carefully into the coffee. it's very hot, but feels quite nice too, and i tilt on my side and lie there, floating in the coffee for a moment. it feels good just lying there, Ann Beattie watching me float around in the saucer. i can tell i'm amusing her. she starts to laugh. then she stops laughing and looks out of the window at the rain.
'Let's get something to eat,' Ann Beattie says, suddenly, banging her palms loudly on the table top. it rattles me half out of the saucer. 'You like pizza?' she says.
i write YES on the table in coffee. Ann Beattie tilts her head to read the upside-down YES, and from this angle i can kind of see up her nose.