Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Major Maybe" by Ann Beattie

Issue: April 20, 2015

Story: "Major Maybe" by Ann Beattie

Rating: $$

Review: "Major Maybe" is a bittersweet and poetic little morsel* by a well-decorated veteran of the American literary fiction scene. Even if the story does feel a little under-wrought and lopsided -- it starts out as if it's going to be an actual "story" but then morphs into sort of a prose poem and ends abruptly -- the emotions it evokes at the end make it worth the read.

The story is narrated by an unnamed female narrator in her early 20s who lives with her bi-sexual actor friend, Eagle Soars, in an apartment in New York City in the 80s. The two live the kind of romantic, bohemian, young-in-NYC life that everyone (most people) dream of and that a few people actually get to live. They are broke. They are trying to become actors. They sit outside and drink cheap wine and watch their kooky neighbors. They even hook up once in a desperate moment of wine-fueled lust. Major Maybe is the name of one of the neighborhood dogs, but that almost seems incidental.

The story functions more as a snapshot of the narrator's (really the author's) life in NYC in the 80s. She and her friend take walks and wonder about the future, they fret over the spread of AIDS, they talk about their neighbors, most of whom, at that point in the neighborhood's lifespan, were working class natives who had yet to be squeezed out by the very-soon-to-be-rising real estate prices in Manhattan.

Finally, toward the end of the story, however, we get to what the author really wants to write about:

"If you were in New York in the eighties, you wonder now where everybody went, and then you remind yourself that quite a few people who made up the neighborhood owned their property and dug in their heels, and eventually died. Some died of AIDS. Some moved to Brooklyn. Or to the West. Or to Atlanta..."

This, it would seem, is the essence of the story, very neatly and very succinctly distilled for us before the author lets us go. This wistful look back is followed by a scene in which the narrator views a picture of her old apartment which is now on Airbnb. The way the apartment is done up to entice visitors somehow reminds her of her of the gulf between her own dreams of the City, her dreams of her life there, and the reality.

Beattie chooses to end the story with the line, "Indelible, the yellow pollen on the floor." This line gets its own indentation and therefore, seems completely set off from the rest of the story, serving as a one-line finishing paragraph and, ultimately, signifying that this story should be read as a poem.

*"Major Maybe" will appear in Beattie's forthcoming short story collection The State We're In, due out this summer.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

Saying Goodbye to The Wellington (from afar)

My favorite bar in Indianapolis -- and probably my favorite bar ever -- The Wellington, closed it's doors forever yesterday. I found out via a text message from my good friend Chris on Tuesday. I hoped I would have enough time to go back to Indy and have one last pint in The Wellington's cozy, wood-paneled interior, and commune one last time with the bar that was like a second home to my friends and I during grad school, but there was not enough time. As it is with certain people who leave us too soon: I never got to say goodbye.

It bothers me that I'll never know exactly when I had my last drink at The Wellington, but it was probably during the summer of 2016, my last summer in Indy. By then The Welly had become like an old reliable friend that you've stopped hanging out with regularly but whom you still go out of your way to visit. The days when I could show up at the bar and reliably find one or two of my friends there, or a familiar regular, or someone I knew behi…