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Love Always ()

I have been accused, I believe fairly, of being a misogynist, so it came as something of a surprise to find that I liked this satirical novel by one of our best female writers better than did the critics.  In fact, I liked the book very much and think it belongs right up there with Bonfire of the Vanities and Bright Lights, Big City on the short list of really perceptive social novels of the 80's.

Hildon and Maureen are a quintessential yuppie couple who have moved to Vermont where Hildon publishes Country Daze, a sort of rustic Spy magazine for the New Yorkers who summer in the Green Mountains.  Hildon has been carrying on an affair with Lucy Spenser since they were in college; Lucy now writes a spoof advice column for the magazine under the pseudonym of Cindi Coeur.  Meanwhile, Lucy has just been jilted by her longtime lover, Les Whitehall, and now her 14 year old TV star niece, Nicole Nelson, has come for a visit while the mother runs off with a 24 year old tennis pro.  Beattie spins a savage comedy of manners out of this material.  It is both genuinely funny, here's one of Cindi Couer's columns:

                          Dear Cindi Couer,
                          I understand that small children often exaggerate without thinking of it as
                         a lie.  My question is about my son, who has been complaining that his best
                         friend has better lunches than he has.  He says that instead of bringing tuna
                         fish sandwiches to school, the boy has a whole tuna. I told him that this was
                         not possible, because  a real tuna fish would weigh hundreds of pounds.
                         Nevertheless, my son refuses to eat tuna fish sandwiches anymore, and I feel
                         that tuna sandwiches are better for him than the protein found in the only
                         other sandwich he will eat - pork chop.  I am also worried about his telling
                         lies.  He refuses to admit that he has made up the story about the tuna.  I
                         have questioned him in detail about how this would be possible, and he just
                         continues the lie.  He says the boy does not bring the sandwiches in a lunch
                         box, but in a box the size of a bed.  Should I discipline him, or just pack
                         tuna sandwiches and insist that he face reality and eat them?
                                                                                     A Worried Mom

                         Dear Worried,
                           It seems to me that you have quite a few options.  You could refuse to
                         replace the tuna sandwiches with sandwiches made of pork chops, and
                         substitute something such as quiche, which will get soggy and appeal to no
                         child.  You could also get a pig and put it in a cage, telling your son that
                         this way he would have something to rival his friend's tuna fish, and that it
                         is his problem to get it to school.  You might also consider the possibility
                         that the other boy is being forced to eat sardine sandwiches and is trying to
                         compensate for his own embarrassment by insisting that they are tuna fish.
                         You may want to ask yourself what your son is missing sat home that makes him
                         have such a strong empathetic reaction with the other boy.  You might also
                         consider the possibility that one or both boys needs glasses.

and devastatingly accurate in its depiction of the emptiness behind the facade of modern love.

Everything is surfaces here.  People assume roles and pass themselves off as something they are not, the New Yorkers have created a Potemkin Village version of Vermont so that they can pretend to be countrified, folks sign letters Love Always as if it meant Sincerely--and it turns out that it means little more than that for most of them.  Everyone is so artificial and their lives so transient that they do not really love one another, not husbands and wives, not mothers and daughters, not longtime companions, not adulterous couples.  Their lives are summed up in the title of Nicole's soap opera, "Passionate Intensity"--which is taken from William Butler Yeats' Second Coming: The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.  Love has been replaced by passion; relationships have replaced true commitments.

And so ends the Baby Boomer generation, depthless, childess, loveless & artificial, they are completely atomized.  And lest one hold out hope for the next generation, Nicole explains to her aunt that noone has friends anymore, that people sleep together because they are supposed to, and when her aunt asks if she has a "fave rave", responds that it's not cool to like a boy that much anymore.  As Hildon says of her:

    She needs an education.  She ought to have a tutor or something.  She's never learned anything.

    She knows lyrics to songs and she knows what people are talking about if they say something dirty
    and she knows who's who on television.  She doesn't know anything about the world.

Lucy's generation had, at least, been exposed to and then rejected Western Civilization, American ideals and Judeo-Christian morality.  The generation to come is simply being raised in a moral and ethical vaccum and, since nature abhors a vaccum, mass media and pop culture are rushing in to fill the empty space.  Beattie amply demonstrates the emptiness of the lives that these people lead and the malignancy of the culture that they have created.

Reading the book, I was struck by how hard it would be for someone to relate to much of it in thirty years.  Many references are already dated: Betamax, Cabbage Patch Kids, Bess Myerson, etc., and hopefully, the people themselves will seem like artifacts by then.  Having just read several of the great satires from earlier in the Century (Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point, Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time, Evelyn Waugh's Handful of Dust), it became obvious that, even if the authors had captured the Zeitgeist perfectly, it is very hard for the modern reader to pick up on all the in jokes and to feel the bite of the satire as their contemporaries must have felt it.  But Beattie is writing about things that are all too familiar to us here and now and she writes about them with engaging wit and great perception.  I highly recommend this one.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Women Authors
Ann Beattie Links:

-WIKIPEDIA: Ann Beattie
    -PODCAST: More to Say: Ann Beattie on Her New Collection of Essays, Donald Barthelme, and the Chinese Spy Balloon (In Conversation with Whitney Terrell and V.V. Ganeshananthan, March 2, 2023, LitHub)

Book-related and General Links:
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: (NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Collected Stories of Richard Yates' by Richard Yates  (Ann Beattie , SF Chronicle)
    -Ann Beattie & Mona Simpson
    -Where Characters Come From  Beattie, Ann - Mississippi Review
    -About Ann Beattie: A Profile by Don Lee (Ploughshares Fall 1995)
    -Ann Beattie: Introduction to the Fall 1995 Issue of Ploughshares
    -Style-defining author Ann Beattie comes in from the rain (HILLEL ITALIE, Associated Press)
    -READING GROUP GUIDE: for My Life, Starring Dara Falcon by Ann Beattie (Random House)
    -READERS CHOICE:  Ann Beattie Bookshelf
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: (On the Margin)
    -REVIEW: Key for Escaping Spirit (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: Having It All (Josh Rubins, NY Review of Books)
    -Ann Beattie Opens Up: Short stories that make the ordinary seem surprising (Chris Wright, Boston Phoenix)
    -EXCERPT: from PARK CITY  New and Selected Stories COSMOS (Denver Post online)
    -REVIEW: of Another You ( Imprint: Arts  (Volume 19, Number 15))
    -REVIEW: of Park City  (Hilary Mantel, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of What Was Mine (Patricia Storace, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Picturing Will (Ann Hulbert, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Falling in Place (Robert Towers, NY Review of Books)