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Ann Beattie: Love Always
Beattie’s novels have always tended towards satire but in this one, she does not hold back but lets fly with both barrels and the targets are her generation, the baby boomers who are still living in the 1960s and who have not grown up and seem unlikely to do so. There is a lot more, as her satire targets other American icons such as Hollywood and soap operas and funerals but the children of the Sixties bear the brunt of her attacks.
Hildon is a Ben-and-Jerry capitalist. He has founded a magazine called Country Daze, a hippie, counterculture magazine, which he runs from Vermont. He has recently sold the magazine for a large profit (to a man who is also his wife’s lover). Hildon is married to Maureen who loves organising parties and is organising another one as the novel starts. However, Hildon is in love with Lucy Spencer who, as Cindi Coeur, writes the agony column for Country Daze, most of which she makes up. Lucy is in love with Les Whitehall who brought her to Vermont and then left her but she continues her desultory affair with Hildon. Lucy has a fourteen-year old niece, Nicole, who is the star of a soap opera called Passionate Intensity. Those who have visited this site before may have noted a quote from Yeats’ superb poem The Second Coming which reads Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. At the end of that verse, the poem reads The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity which is where the writer took the title of the soap opera from, as the producer, the wittily named Piggy Proctor, finds out during the book. Nicole is spending the summer with her aunt Lucy as her mother wants to be alone with her tennis pro, a younger man. Ironically Nicole’s soap opera character, Stephanie Sykes, also comes from a broken home. It is this introduction of the soap opera and the soap opera star that makes this novel so funny as Beattie, in a decidedly unsubtle way, draws the very obvious parallels between the soap opera characters and the characters of this book which, of course, is intended to show that soap opera and real life have become inseparable.
Like other Beattie children, Nicole is anything but innocent. She has learned a lot in Hollywood including sex (she has a fling with a photographer) and the adults are certainly no more mature than Nicole, as her aunt soon realises. But Nicole, like the other characters, is merely acting out life. Whether it is Hildon, with his image of New York in Vermont or Lucy with her fake agony column or Les with his commitment-phobia, none of the main characters is authentic and it is this that Beattie wittily satirises. Once again she produces another first-class novel.
First published 1985 by Random House