The State We're In

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The State We're In
224 pages; Scribner
Ann Beattie slips into a short story as flawlessly as Audrey Hepburn wore a Givenchy gown: an iconic presentation, each line and fold falling into place but allowing room for surprise. With The State We're In, her collection of linked tales, Beattie teases out the hidden conflicts of one coastal Maine community, even as her characters occasionally migrate south and west. Their internal compass may point elsewhere, but they still ache with a desire for roots, a home where "the stars just glitter to draw your attention."

Beattie's signature gifts—her finely tuned language, droll wit, unerring feel for popular culture—are on rich display here, refracted through the prism of a town where artists, handymen and the wealthy bump against one another. A teenager languishes in her uncle's house, struggling to figure out why her mother has sent her there. A woman turns down a friend's desperate request, which leads to tragedy on a rocky beach. A photographer's widow agrees to an interview, only to be pulled into to the interviewer's personal drama. Beattie shades her women with vivid detail: "A stone glinted in the sunlight before plunking into the water where boats bobbed on their moorings. Hannah's hair was flaxen. It was wavy and thick and caught the light like a yellow, shot-silk curtain...It overpowered everything..."

More than a paean to the Pine Tree State, The State We're In underscores the indelible contribution Beattie has made to American short fiction.
— Hamilton Cain