It's the little stuff that counts when it comes to Ann Beattie's short fiction; and PERFECT RECALL, her latest collection, does not stray from her usual topics. Stories about wayward folks living in mellow circumstances strive to examine the ways in which these people are invaded by their pasts and how long-held family myths have shaped their destinies.
Reading Beattie's stories is like going to a cocktail party you don't necessarily want to go to --- you don't know anybody and, once you have your drink in hand, you hightail it to a corner to listen to the gossipy discussions going on around you. Filled with references to astrology, affairs, and vices galore, PERFECT RECALL counters the more urbane work of other contemporary writers --- Beattie's people live away from the rat race and it shows.
Occasionally, the more urbane world does raise its strange and twisted head. In "The Big-Breasted Pilgrim," a chef du jour ends up getting harassed by one George Stephanopolous. Huh? My reaction exactly. In "In Irons," the actor Roy Scheider is mentioned. Somehow these pop culture references seem ill at odds with the essential hippiness of Beattie's characters. All the stories go down easily, like a well-mixed cocktail, but there are moments where you wonder if she's trying to be hip and is failing miserably. Of course, not every writer has to be hip --- it's like an epidemic disease, that type of self-consciousness. But you want the stories to make sense, and with PERFECT RECALL, sometimes it's hard to follow Beattie's path.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 14, 2001