Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Ann Beattie's "Save a Horse Ride a Cowgirl" was originally published in the November 23, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

November 23, 2015Ann Beattie has been publishing stories in the magazine since 1974. She is much acclaimed, though I personally have never quite connected. Indeed, I was pretty harsh in my initial thoughts on her last to appear in the pages of The New Yorker, “Major Maybe,” so harsh I took some time to revisit the piece and temper myself and then never cared enough to follow through with that. You can see those thoughts, and the ensuing discussion, here.

While I’m not particularly enthusiastic going in, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story and on Ann Beattie’s work in general. Join in the discussion below!


Here are Adrienne’s initial thoughts to get the ball rolling:

Bradley Clough is coming to terms with what his life has become after the death of his wife, Donna.

That’s it.

Well, also his time in Vietnam . . .

Yet Ann Beattie takes us on a rambling, fabricated journey of “telling” (not “showing”), marking the path with senseless brand name-dropping — Puma, Newman’s Own, Coke. It seems as if she is cataloging evidences of the characters’ lives to convince us of their reality. Instead, this story feels like a meandering gossip reel. Characters and their connections to each other are dropped in so quick and hard in the beginning that I thought: who cares? Who was there to connect to and follow?

About a third of the way in, Beattie focuses solely on her main guy. And it makes sense that she is taking an artistic route, and fleshing out his existence for us. I can almost see what she is intending to do for us as readers. There is a lot of potential here, but . . . Is she trying to sound like the younger writers of the day? I don’t even like when they do this kicking realities around and making them squeal for the reader.

The dialogue is heavy and unnatural. Beattie’s “telling” flows better than what we overhear the characters say. There are attempts at wry humor, but it feels forced, for show. Not only am I lacking any concern for Bradley (I cared more about his brother Sterne!), but the participants of this tale seem made up, static, except for well-placed details in order to create spontaneous life on the page. A lot of attributes or quirks, or even life events, seem random. Sudden. Oh! I need to tell them this part, too!

Readers are pretty brilliant. “He finished his seltzer, peed, and undressed, draping his clothes on the bedpost. The next day was Saturday, so he’d wear them a second day.” One, readers understand that the clothes on the bedpost assumes a second wear, otherwise they would have gone to the laundry basket or even the floor. And two, how many times can one use the word “day” in a sentence?

The concept of starting with one character and bumping around until we get to the protagonist and how they connect to the first is fascinating. There were just too many loose ends here. This story felt like the kitchen “junk drawer” — many great pieces taken out on their own, but put together, they create a mess not to be dealt with.

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By |2015-11-16T17:36:10+00:00November 16th, 2015|Categories: Ann Beattie, Book Reviews, New Yorker Fiction|9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Sean H November 25, 2015 at 3:14 am

    There are a lot of ingredients thrown into this particular stew. It doesn’t all work but that’s the thing about a stew, if you don’t like the greens you’ve got the potatoes, if the stock is a little too watery you can appreciate the carrots or the garlic. Beattie scatters a number of characters and incidents here, some more effectively than others. I like the structure, veering from the car accident victim to his brother. I like the three Brees. The dancing couple was too bizarre, not Beattie’s territory. More something for the younger absurdist set or the hysterical realism crowd (more Aimee Bender or A.M. Homes territory). The lawyerly gesture that the protagonist uses that his deceased wife wouldn’t have tolerated, that was nice. The fact that he didn’t like his wife all that much but may have loved her, also a solid story element. I enjoyed the way Beattie brings back the nurse who accidentally killed the wife and how her husband looks the nurse up on Facebook and wishes her unwell. The Southern Belle and her insufferability blended with the alkie real estate guy who’s ready to burn rubber to the nearest bar, that’s a more than just competent little scene there. Overall Bradley is, at the end of the proverbial day, a man besieged, almost like a male version of a Bonnie Jo Campbell character. There are shades of Annie Proulx’s fatalism as well and the Vietnam stuff feels like an import from a Bobbie Ann Mason story. Yes, Beattie’s story could be more winnowed down, focused and impactful, but there’s enough of a melange here to please my palate.

  2. Greg November 30, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you Sean for using the metaphor of a stew to help us appreciate this story. I will continue to use this approach in my future readings. All in all, your weekly postings in this space Sean have helped me get more out of my literary experiences.

    Also, thanks Adrienne for setting the table each week with your thoughts and critical analysis. We appreciate your time sacrifice!

  3. Adrienne November 30, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Kind words, Greg – thanks a bunch! I love talking about stories with those who love stories!

  4. Lee December 5, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    I didn’t like it either. It ended as if there was some realization about life about their relationship and it just wasn’t there for me. Plus I missed sterns the only interesting character. The writing was ok but the story just didn’t pick up

  5. Ken December 23, 2015 at 5:38 am

    I kind of agree with the stew metaphor in that stew is kind of dull sometimes. I found this kind of tedious, yet perhaps nourishing in trying to deal with grief without too much pathos, but instead in an understated way. I could live without the condescending portraits of non-natives which seems to be the main pleasure of many New Englanders. I mean God forbid you move to their hallowed area from the South or (shudder) Los Angeles (where I live).

  6. Greg December 23, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    It’s cool Ken that you also liked Sean’s stew construct.

    And as for the frequent condescension by New Englanders, be careful now – Betsy may have something to say about that!

    Hee-hee!

  7. Ken December 26, 2015 at 4:41 am

    Betsy is sorely missed. She was the most astute of the reader/critics on this site. Even if I disagreed with her, I enjoyed her comments.

  8. Greg December 26, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    Hey Ken, there still may be hope…..perhaps Betsy will make a 2016 resolution to return to the NYR space of this website!

    (Nevertheless, Adrienne and Sean have been doing a superb job in her absence)

  9. Adrienne December 26, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    Haha! New Englanders! I grew up on the Cape – and I was in a hurry to jump ship! While I do not believe there is a lot of condescension of non-natives, I believe there is a heavy misunderstanding – misinterpretation of their attitudes and behaviors. I have lived out West for half of my life thus far, but my mother-in-law is a more recent transplant from Boston and Cape Cod. SHE thinks that people out West are condescending towards New Englanders! The irony!

    I do not know if I hear condescension in Beattie’s writing voice, but I do know it didn’t resonate with either part of me: the native New Englander or the woman who lives at the edge of The Rockies….

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