Reading Ann Beattie’s new collection of short stories, The Burning House,[1] one notes with interest that the divorce rate in Beattie-land is nearing one hundred per cent. (Two, or about ten per cent, of the marriages dissolve when husbands desert their wives to become rock stars.) In what may or may not be a related phenomenon, Valium has replaced pot as the drug of choice. One retrograde, it is true, is trying to wean himself off his dependency on tranquilizers and back onto marijuana, but he represents the exception to the general rule of a thirty- to fifty-milligram day.

At the age of thirty-five, Beattie seems to have succeeded John Cheever and John Updike in the pages of The New Yorker as the chronicler of middle-class lives of quiet desperation. By some cabal of editors and critics (who are generally much older, so it doesn’t...


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