The writing in Ann Beattie's "The New Yorker Stories," a collection of every story the writer has published in that magazine, spans an amazing three decades, yet remains remarkably consistent in tone and theme. Wry, understated and closely observed, the stories feature mostly affluent baby boomers who are alienated from their loved ones, disillusioned with their lives and oblivious to the causes of their discontent.
The characters get older as the collection progresses, from the young woman in 1976's "A Platonic Relationship" who leaves her husband and grows close to a male roommate until he abruptly leaves town, to the man in 2006's "The Confidence Decoy" who deals with some unreliable furniture movers en route to facing a more complex problem involving his adult son. In between, there's a one-armed man who watches his family's July 4th lawn party through an upstairs window, a real estate agent who pays more attention to an arty bowl than she does the men in her life, a retired doctor who befriends his tenant until a shocking revelation shows how little he really knew the younger man.
The later stories are more psychologically nuanced, offering telling details to signal characters' isolation, as when a widower watches a stranger barge into his kitchen and realizes she'll see "the landslide of mostly unread newspapers that needed to be thrown out, a few days' worth of dirty dishes in the sink."
These haunting stories follow a generation as it matures without ever quite growing up.