“For the Best”
by Ann Beattie
Originally published in the March 14, 2016 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

March 14, 2016I think there are few participants in these New Yorker discussions who are fans of Beattie’s work (if I’m wrong, please speak up louder!). Because Beattie was a “New Yorker” author I’d heard so much about before I really started digging in, for a long time I felt like she was too important to dismiss. But I’ve liked next to nothing that I’ve read, so I don’t anticipate getting far into this one.

If I’m missing something, if there are any Beattie fans out there who are appalled by this response, I’m open to discussion and argument. I’d like to understand what I’m missing, as I’d much rather enjoy her work than not.

Looking forward to all thoughts you have on “For the Best” and Beattie below!

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By |2016-03-07T12:45:49+00:00March 7th, 2016|Categories: Ann Beattie, New Yorker Fiction|6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Sean H March 14, 2016 at 3:14 am

    Beattie’s skill as a crafter of short stories is far beyond my own so it’s a weird thing to say, but I think her issue with this one was she needed a harsher editor. Not on the sentence level nor on the level of overall structure in a technical sense but in the decision to include certain in-the-moment political details like the San Bernadino, CA shooting and the spoiled rich girl with the I-Phone and her little white dog. Beattie took heat in her heyday because of her commitment to brand name realism but that’s not at all the issue I have here, I like the references to Jaws, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Woody Allen, Breitling and Jaguar ads. The political back third of the story though just felt really grafted on, a totally unnecessary and awkward nod at contemporary politics of the most ephemeral sort.

    For most of the story, as I read it, I was quite satisfied. The facility with which Beattie navigates the world of upper middle class Manhattan is exceptional. This is a realm of styptic pencils and accountants and “party season” where Sinatra plays as wounded old folks congregate, where the inhabitants belong to financial institutions that no longer exist, where the natural young beauties are glum and nameless. This is the alcoholy WASPishness of Cheever, a world of divorce and Belgian loafers and umbrella-toting doormen with wives dead of cancer. It was reminiscent of the old New York City which fills so many pages of this magazine’s best and most classic stories. It’s also a revivable world than can be made a bit more contemporary (while simultaneously retaining a timelessness) like in moments during Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or more explicitly and regularly in David Gilbert’s own 2013 novel & Sons.

    If Beattie didn’t get there it’s because of those aforementioned details which she or an editor should have whittled down or excised entirely. Too on-the-nose, even the little caption The New Yorker put at the end of the story announcing Beattie’s interview online where she talks about “the estrangement of old age.” God, that’s a horrifically unliterary way to put it. What makes this story work are the characters. Gerald and Charlotte are really three-dimensional for a short story. Too bad she couldn’t leave out the blaring moments of CURRENT AFFAIRS blasted in there in capital letters and without half as much nuance as the rest of the story attains.

  2. Greg March 18, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    Thank you Sean for another comprehensive NYR review. Your weekly opinions add to my experience of the story.

    I have the following two takeaways from your posting:

    – Political current events should only be subtly added to a story, if at all. (e.g. After 9/11, some writers said it would be best to wait 10 years before writing a novel about it)

    – Ann Beattie is almost at the same level as Donna Tartt and David Gilbert in writing about upper middle class Manhattan. High Praise indeed! (Also, Beattie’s house party reminded me of the dinner parties in Jay McInerney’s novels…..another legendary New York writer)

  3. Parker March 19, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Against my better judgment, I like the story. Yes, it’s bloated, and seemingly breaks many of the rules of good story writing: too many characters introduced too soon (I count eight in the first four paragraphs, not including the dog Alexander the Great); too much extraneous detail (as has already been mentioned); and too much superfluous conversation. But perhaps that is what the story is meant to be about: Excess. And how excess and superficiality diminish people– and especially the excess and superficiality surrounding a Manhattan Christmas party. The title of the story, “For The Best”, seems to be an allusion to the Sinatra song “The Best is Yet To Come”, a verse of which goes: “The best is yet to come, babe, won’t that be fine? You think you’ve seen the sun, but you ain’t seen it shine. Wait till a warmup’s underway…. Wait till you seen that sunshine day…you ain’t seen nothing yet.” But, of course, the allusion to the song, if not ironic, is at least probably meant to be contrapuntal to the facts in the story: Gerald, the main character, is divorced for 31 years; there is no sunshine– it’s been raining; and (far from “not having seen anything yet”) Gerald, at age 79, apparently has seen it all. Thus, his realization at the story’s end: “He’d grown old.” Not much of an epiphany– but, under the circumstances, probably the best that can be hoped for.

  4. Greg March 19, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    Thanks Parker for highlighting the excess theme….I appreciate how you explain that it diminishes (not enhances).

    Also, thank you for fully explaining the title. Beattie refers to Ol’ Blue Eyes a couple of times…..and now Parker you have closed the loop for us!

  5. Ken March 27, 2016 at 3:42 am

    I wasn’t thrilled to read this either and started it rather glumly especially the part about Xmas shopping and going into Rizzoli’s. I was thinking–“My God, insular, self-satisfied, bourgeois New York/New Yorker fiction about the only people left who can afford Manhattan–the rich”–and then I started to get intrigued and interested. Flecks of feeling and sadness appear and the various relationships and meetings Gerald has each are interesting and play off against each other. A seeming connection to a young woman whose name he doesn’t know, his ex-wife whom he hasn’t seen in 30 years appearing and not seeming particularly amazed at their reconnecting (if you can call it that), and his talk with Alonzo which is heartfelt yet raises the issue of class difference. He end old, alone. I was moved.

  6. Pauline April 2, 2016 at 6:41 am

    I had fallen behind on my New Yorker issues this past month, but was excited to see an Ann Beattie story in this one, as I’d enjoyed her last story quite a bit. But “For the Best” left me so irritated at having to force myself to read through to the end, I rushed to my computer to look up the interview with her, in hopes of understanding just what was going on in her mind. (I’ll spare you my frustration on TNY site’s lack of search optimization and how long it took me to find it…). Sorry to say, no enlightenment on just why there would be so many characters from the start, why so many awkward sentences, why such a cluttered narrative. I didn’t even realize Gerald was 79 until the end! Thanks to the others commentators who helped put a little more perspective on her writing, but, in my opinion, the flaws remain. I can’t understand why the editors would run a second story from the same author in such a short time. As some of you have hinted in the past, the Fiction Editors may be losing their touch, differently from their colleagues, who are still keeping me faithful to my subscription.

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