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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.

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