Summary and book reviews of Perfect Recall by Ann Beattie

Perfect Recall

By Ann Beattie

Perfect Recall
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  • Hardcover: Dec 2000,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2002,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

Ann Beattie published her first short story in The New Yorker in 1972. Twenty-eight years later, she received the 2000 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is, as the Washington Post Book World said, "one of our era's most vital masters of the short form."

The eleven stories in her new work are peopled by characters coming to terms with the legacies of long-held family myths or confronting altered circumstances -- new frailty or sudden, unlikely success. Beattie's ear for language, her complex and subtle wit, and her profound compassion are unparalleled.

From the elegiac story "The Famous Poet, Amid Bougainvillea," in which two men trade ruminations on illness, art, and servitude, to "The Big-Breasted Pilgrim," wherein a famous chef gets a series of bewildering phone calls from George Stephanopoulos, Perfect Recall comprises Beattie's strongest work in years. It is a riveting commentary on the way we live now by a spectacular prose artist.

Chapter Two
The Big-Breasted Pilgrim

Our house in the Florida Keys is down a narrow road, half a mile from a convenience store with a green neon sign that advertises "Bait and Basics." Lowell's sister, Kathryn, called to get us to arrange for a car to drive her from Miami. She considers everywhere Lowell has ever lived to be Siberia, including Saratoga, New York, which she saw only once, during a blizzard. TriBeCa, circa 1977, was Siberia. Ditto Ashland, Oregon. In all those places, Lowell had what he now calls "The Siberian Brides": his first and second wives, who gradually became as incomprehensible to him as foreigners: Tish, who lived with us in Saratoga and later in TriBeCa; Leigh Anne Leighton -- a name so melodic he always speaks of her that way, even though it seems inordinately formal -- who lived with us for a month in Ashland before flying to Los Angeles for her grandfather's funeral, from which she never returned. This was no case of riding forever 'neath the streets of ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The narratives Ann Beattie has created shift between various places and times. The title story epitomizes this fluidity: Jane's ability to remember conversations and events in their entirety allows her to document her family's story and to attempt to weave the past and present together. How does the past affect the lives of the various characters? What does Beattie achieve by incorporating the past into many of the narratives throughout the collection?

  2. In "See the Pyramids" Cheri says to Erin, "You could get married, go on a honeymoon, see the pyramids." Trips, visits, moves, migrations — many journeys take place throughout these stories. Often these are a means of escape or a gateway into ...
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Media Reviews
Publisher's Weekly

The 1998 publication of Park City, a collection of new and selected stories, sparked a much-deserved revival of interest in Beattie, one of the most under appreciated of major contemporary writers. Now, Beattie rewards longtime fans and new readers alike with 11 deft, pitch-perfect stories.

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... more perfect stories from Beattie.

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