Ann Beattie arrived in New York young, observant and celebrated (as The New Yorker’s young fiction star) in one of the most compelling and creative eras of recent times. So does the protagonist of her intense new novella, Walks with Men.
It is 1980 in New York City, and Jane, a valedictorian fresh out of Harvard, strikes a deal with Neil, an intoxicating writer twenty years her senior. The two quickly become lovers, living together in a Chelsea brownstone, and Neil reveals the rules for a life well lived: If you take food home from a restaurant, don’t say it’s because you want leftovers for "the dog." Say that you want the bones for "a friend who does autopsies." If you can’t stand on your head (which is best), learn to do cartwheels. Have sex in airplane bathrooms. Wear only raincoats made in England. Neil’s certainties, Jane discovers, mask his deceptions. Her true education begins.
"One of our era’s most vital masters of the short form" (The Washington Post), Beattie brilliantly captures a time, a place and a style of engagement. Her voice is original and iconic.
Beattie (Follies) turns a clinical eye on young love in this moody period piece about Jane Jay Costner, who, just out of college in 1980, is given the opportunity to learn the ways of the world and of love from an older man. The affair is proposed as an intellectual experiment, and the reader cringes as young Jane becomes deeply involved with Neil, an older writer who is, predictably, married and no great catch besides. He offers a stream of pretentious aphorisms ( When you travel to Europe, never wear a fragrance from the country you're in ) that Jane initially admires but eventually distrusts. But even as her dislike for her lover grows, she becomes ever more entrenched. Beattie's talent as a prose stylist is evident: the sentences are gorgeous and there isn't a word out of place, but emotion is subdued to the point of aloofness, leaving the reader with little more than idle concern for Jane. Beattie effortlessly conjures 1980s New York, but the human terrain could be less muted.