Love Always

Kellman, Steven G.

The quiche & the dead LOVE ALWAYS Ann Beattie Random House, $16.95, 247 pp. Steven G. Kellman CHILLY Scenes of Winter (1976), Falling in Place (1981), and, especially, her finely tuned...

...Jane is sending her fourteen-year-old daughCommonweal: 474 ter, the famous child actress Nicole Nelson, to spend her vacation with Lucy in Vermont...
...Plato cautioned about the perils of mimesis, and our mothers warned that if you make grotesque faces the wind will freeze you in the pose...
...Maureen is Hildon's wife...
...It is difficult to say which is more fatuous: the advice Cindi Coeur bestows, or the requests for advice she fabricates...
...It includes a joke about Alzheimer's disease and half-witticisms about how "every Nathan's hot dog was actually a dehydrated roast beef" and how Piggy "used non sequiturs the way other people shook salt on their food...
...She couldn't have agreed more with the Country Daze philosophy...
...But, unlike this reader, she actually ends up being seduced by a couple of them...
...Love Always is replete with questionable gags like a blind bartender who pours perfect drinks, a dog named St...
...We are asked to believe that a disillusioned generation that no longer subscribes to anything has suddenly found indispensable a trendy new weekly called Country Daze...
...The magazine is edited in rural Vermont by a charismatic cad named Hildon, with a little help from his madcap friends...
...A chapter in which we accompany two inept policemen in their patrol car to a McDonald's offers diversion from the novel's preoccupation: the affluent and educated somewhat midway in their lives' journey...
...The effect is so sardonic it risks being sentimental...
...But her admirable eye for the telling detail has unfortunately developed a squint...
...A weather report from a rapidly shifting front is not enduring art...
...Myra, it turns out, is also spiritually one of them: "If you couldn't ignore things, making a joke seemed a feasible alternative...
...Beattie is, as always, attentive to the nuances of social definition: the contents of Maureen's medicine cabinet ("Dalmane, patent medicine, Valium, and Tylenol with codeine"), the magazines Hildon reads ("the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Time, Geo, Connoisseur, Paris Review, and Architectural Digest"), a pompous writer's credits ("ghostwriter of Puts and Calls for Fun and Profit, author of Mazie, the Mouse Who Came to Stay, and / Will Always Love You, the unauthorized biography of Dolly Parton...
...Steven G. Kellman CHILLY Scenes of Winter (1976), Falling in Place (1981), and, especially, her finely tuned short fiction established Ann Beattie as the bard of the Baby Boomers...
...Principal among his assistants and his friends is Lucy Spenser, who writes a column of amorous counsel under the pseudonym Cindi Coeur...
...To avoid flipping out, Beattie and her characters practice the ancient discipline of flippancy...
...the precious details accumulated in this novel do not tell us as much as they pretend to...
...I am willing enough to suspend my disbelief, but not over a chasm of cuteness...
...When Lucy receives a call from her sister Jane, it changes her summer...
...It simply does not earn its abundant ironies...
...Characters flit into and out of one another's lives, yet, in the case of Les, perversely sign their letters "Love Always...
...Les Whitehall has just walked out on Lucy...
...Nor, apparently, could Love Always...
...Perhaps it is unfair or officious to ask whether a book will be read in ten or fifty years...
...But Love Always is not the book by which Ann Beattie will want to be known...
...Piggy is astonished to learn that Nicole's TV show Passionate Intensity derives its title from a line in Yeats's "The Second Coming": "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity...
...Beattie writes this way, in minimalist prose allergic to connectives and subordinate clauses...
...With the coaching of her Hollywood agent Piggy Proctor, she is precociously savvy, though conversational references to Jonah, Gary Hart, and Juilliard leave her puzzled...
...Myra DeVane, a newspaper reporter assigned to do a piece on Country Daze and its whole slick crew, is, like the reader, an outsider...
...Nicole is universally adulated as a star of the soap opera Passionate Intensity...
...A letter she attributes to "A Worried Mom" laments that her son insists she pack a whole tuna in his lunch box, and Cindi's solution is to give him quiche...
...With Love Always, the boom has gone bust...
...Changes do not always occur as violently as they do two-thirds of the way through this book, but they always occur...
...Maureen is walking out on Hildon...
...Lucy and Hildon have been lovers for many years...
...Neither is credible or hilarious...
...The novel, like Lucy Spenser, suffers from "a morbid fascination with being facile.'' Myra believes, "It was easy to turn things into a comedy," but both she and her author might do well to consult Dante...
...Francis who kills sheep, and a deranged feminist who terrorizes a boutique...
...We are what we mimic, and Love Always is indistinguishable from the style it mocks smart but not sage...
...Theirs is a world of relationships, hence a very fragile world...
...At its best, Love Always lacks the conviction of its despair...

Vol. 112 • September 1985 • No. 15


 
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