December 13, 2011

Ann Beattie's "Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life" is hilariously panned in the NYT.

By Michiko Kakutani.
[A] narcissistic, self-indulgent, hot-air-filled tome that condescends to its ostensible subject, Mrs. Nixon, and that wastes the reader’s time making ridiculous comparisons between, say, the Nixons and the characters in the Raymond Carver story “Cathedral,” or between the Nixons and the characters in the Chekhov story “The Lady With the Little Dog.” There are silly creative-writing-class exercises, like replacing every noun in Mr. Nixon’s famous Checkers speech with the seventh noun below it in the dictionary; and imagining some incidental events in Mrs. Nixon’s life (like taking a bubble bath or drawing sea creatures in the beach sand with her big toe). The chapter titled “Mrs. Nixon Has Thoughts on the War’s Escalation” consists of this one inane sentence: “You and Henry ordering the ‘Christmas Bombing’ was pesky!”...

...Ms. Beattie spreads a gluey gloss of speculation over Pat Nixon, much of it patronizing, stupid or insulting. For example, she writes that Mrs. Nixon thought for herself, but did so “well within cultural conditioning” and “didn’t think metaphorically.”

In one of her efforts to impersonate Mrs. Nixon, Ms. Beattie assumes an icky, Mrs. Cleaver-like voice, talking about making milkshakes to fatten up her husband so he’ll look better on TV in the next debate against John F. Kennedy. (“It’s festive, pretty and full of calories.”) Worse, much of this book feels like a lecture about creative writing....
Ouch. Remember when everyone fawned over Ann Beattie?

17 comments:

campy said...

Sure sign a democratic pres. is in trouble* : lefties start talking about Nixon again.





* Except this One isn't really.

Trapper Townshend said...

Omigosh! I must rush in here. Ann Beattie hasn't written anything worth reading since 1983 -- the year I was born, in fact -- and some of the stuff since then has been toe-curlingly bad. But the stuff from before then really was good! Distortions and Secrets and Surprises and Chilly Scenes of Winter are all great!

My conspiracy theory: The first 3 books of Beattie's were actually written by a professor of hers, but were published under Beattie's name because she was a fresh new thing. The rest of it has been Beattie's own work.

bandmeeting said...

I thought Chilly Scenes Of Winter was decent but that was a million years ago.

Alex Ignatiev said...

She's no Ann Althouse.

Joe Schmoe said...

I tried some Gore Vidal historical fiction, and I didn't like it. This sounds worse.

caplight45 said...

Who is Ann Beatie? Honestly never heard of her.

Chip S. said...

I prefer Anne Beatts.

edutcher said...

What cap said. I thought I remembered all the Lefty psychos from the 60s, but that name eludes me, too.

Trapper Townshend said...

For what it's worth: Ann Beattie's stuff wasn't lefty in the 70s.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

The realism of an Ann Beattie or Raymond Carver is a bit much for your clientele, Ann. Pat Nixon probably a stretch as well. "Larry the Cable guy" more like A-house fare. (and what a shocker: a NYT hack upset somebody would dare to diss the Nixons).

(don't pretend to know anything about literature, Byro-Townsend. Your case-worker already told you to stop cyber-stalking, didn't she )

Christy said...

I read Beattie out of a sense of duty, but never liked her work. Her characters drifted without even a hint of a moral compass, and I never felt the author saw that as an issue. Didn't seem as though Beattie had a center.

cassandra lite said...

Beattie epitomized what was wrong with the New Yorker in the '70s. She was just so godawfully bland.

The funny thing was that she moved out to the Connecticut countryside and, she later said, discovered that she couldn't write amidst the peace and quiet. What an irony that she believed her prose had been driven and informed by NYC's bustle.

Jack Wayne said...

Who the frick is Ann Beatit?

Christy said...

Jack, she was a writer that anyone with pretentions to intellectualism had to read in the 70s and 80s. NYT Book Review Goddess.

ricpic said...

One thing's for sure, no lefty will ever pen Mrs. Kennedy: A Novelist Imagines a Life. Though from what I've read about Jackie she was at least as narrow in her world view, though with the gloss of surface sophistication, and twice as nasty as Pat.

Alex Ignatiev said...

Ann Beattie isn't even a poor man's Raymond Carver.