Ann Beattie: Distant Music (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 5)

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On Friday she always sat in the park, waiting for him to come. At one-thirty, he came to this park bench (if someone was already sitting there, he loitered around it), and then they would sit side by side, talking quietly, like Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in “Notorious.” Both believed in flying saucers and health food.

In Ann Beattie’s “Distant Music”, Sharon and Jack share a park bench, a dog and a relationship. Though the  story is told in third person, it’s mostly Sharon’s story. Knowing that the story was published in 1977, I couldn’t help imagining Sharon as a combination of Rhoda Morgenstern and Annie Hall.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the title “Distant Music” is a way of referring to background music. Unfortunately, the background music in the story are songs written by Jack after he’s left Sharon, the dog, his New York City home (and the bench) to pursue a successful songwriting career in California – which makes the background music not so much in the background, not so distant.

The story also reminded me of “Superstar”, the 1970’s song by The Carpenters (a highly underrated song, I might add). However, in the case of Jack, he never said he’d “be coming back this way again, baby”.

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“Distant Music” is included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker. I read it this week when I selected the King of Diamonds for Week 5 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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Ann Beattie: Janus

Deal Me In – Week 34

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In Ann Beattie’s short story “Janus”, Andrea is infatuated with a bowl.  As a real estate agent, she takes her bowl with her when she shows a house, placing it strategically as though it belonged to the owners.  She credits some of her success as a realtor to the bowl. There is nothing supernatural with the bowl. It simply is unique and gives character to a room when placed there:

She had a very profitable year selling real estate.  Word spread, and she had more clients than she felt comfortable with.  She had the foolish thought that if only the bowl were an animate object she could thank it.

I have to hand it to Beattie for telling a larger story with a short amount of words and minute details.  As the reader finishes the story, they understand the bowl came from Andrea’s lover that was not her husband.  Much of the information I read about this story places the relationship with the lover during the same time in which Andrea is married.  It’s possible I could have missed something but I didn’t see any evidence of that.  Andrea’s marriage does not appear to have major problems, either, with the exception of perhaps – the bowl.

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The title of the story also warranted some research.  According to Wikipedia, Janus is the Roman god of transition represented by bridges, doorways, staircases – and I guess in the case of this story – a bowl.  Usually Janus is represented by a man with two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. It’s not difficult to apply the title to Andrea’s situation.

I read this nice, but odd, little story when I selected the Jack of Diamonds for Week 34 of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  This story is included in my copy of The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike.