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Authors: Ann Beattie

Tags: #Fiction, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Man-Woman Relationships - Fiction, #Short Stories (Single Author), #General


BOOK: Distortions
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Ann Beattie

“Beattie writes out of a wisdom and maturity that are timeless.”

—The New York Times Book Review

“A remarkable talent.”

—Chicago Tribune

“Beattie reminds us why she stands out among her many imitators.”

—Philadelphia Inquirer

“Beattie evokes her characters with clarity and accuracy and creates a poignancy around them … the kind of powerful, haunting quality that we feel in
The Sun Also Rises
The Great Gatsby.”

—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A mesmerizing, exalting, uncannily unsettling talent.”

—Washington Star

“Ann Beattie’s stories are the most perceptive since Salinger’s. They are not just good writing, not just true to life; they have wonder in them and vision.”

—Mary Lee Settle

“[Beatties] ear is faultless, her eye as ruthless as a hawk’s.”

—Washington Post Book World

“A master chronicler of our life and times.”



Chilly Scenes of Winter
Secrets and Surprises
Falling in Place
The Burning House
Love Always
Where You’ll Find Me
Picturing Will

Copyright © 1974, 1975, 1976 by Ann Beattie

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Doubleday & Company, Inc., in 1976.

All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

Grateful acknowledgment is made for the use of random lines of lyrics from the following copyrighted material:
Promopub B. V.: “Angie,” words and music by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard. Copyright © 1973 Promopub B;V. Reprinted by permission. Warner Bros. Music: “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Bob Dylan.
Copyright © 1965 Warner Bros. Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Used by permission.

The following stories appeared originally in
The New Yorker:
“A Platonic Relationship,” “Fancy Flights,” and “Wolf Dreams,” copyright © 1974 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.; “Dwarf House,” “Snakes’ Shoes,” “Vermont,” “Downhill,” and “Wanda’s,” copyright © 1975 by The New Yorker Magzine, Inc.

Other stories in this book have been published as follows: “Eric Clapton’s Lover,” in
The Virginia Quarterly Review;
“It’s Just Another Day in Big Bear City, California,” in
Transatlantic Review;
“Imagined Scenes,” in
The Texas Quarterly;
“Victor Blue,” in
The Atlantic Monthly
, copyright © 1973 by The Atlantic Monthly Company; and “Four Stories About Lovers,” in
Bitches and Sad Ladies
, Edited by Pat Rotter, Published by Harper’s Magazine Press.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Beattie, Ann.
Distortions/Ann Beattie.—                                

p. cm.—(Vintage contemporaries)

eISBN: 978-0-307-79088-0
I. Title.

[PS3552.E177D57 1991]

813′.54-dc20                     90-39020


To David

Dwarf House

re you happy?” MacDonald says. “Because if you’re happy I’ll leave you alone.”

MacDonald is sitting in a small gray chair, patterned with grayer leaves, talking to his brother, who is standing in a blue chair. MacDonald’s brother is four feet, six and three-quarter inches tall, and when he stands in a chair he can look down on MacDonald. MacDonald is twenty-eight years old. His brother, James, is thirty-eight. There was a brother between them, Clem, who died of a rare disease in Panama. There was a sister also, Amy, who flew to Panama to be with her dying brother. She died in the same hospital, one month later, of the same disease. None of the family went to the funeral. Today MacDonald, at his mother’s request, is visiting James to find out if he is happy. Of course James is not, but standing on the chair helps, and the twenty-dollar bill that MacDonald slipped into his tiny hand helps too.

“What do you want to live in a dwarf house for?”

“There’s a giant here.”

“Well it must just depress the hell out of the giant.”

“He’s pretty happy.”

“Are you?”

“I’m as happy as the giant.”

“What do you do all day?”

“Use up the family’s money.”

“You know I’m not here to accuse you. I’m here to see what I can do.”

“She sent you again, didn’t she?”


“Is this your lunch hour?”


“Have you eaten? I’ve got some candy bars in my room.”

“Thank you. I’m not hungry.”

“Place make you lose your appetite?”

“I do feel nervous. Do you like living here?”

“I like it better than the giant does. He’s lost twenty-five pounds. Nobody’s supposed to know about that—the official word is fifteen—but I overheard the doctors talking. He’s lost twenty-five pounds.”

“Is the food bad?”

“Sure. Why else would he lose twenty-five pounds?”

“Do you mind … if we don’t talk about the giant right now? I’d like to take back some reassurance to Mother.”

“Tell her I’m as happy as she is.”

“You know she’s not happy.”

“She knows I’m not, too. Why does she keep sending you?”

“She’s concerned about you. She’d like you to live at home. She’d come herself …”

“I know. But she gets nervous around freaks.”

“I was going to say that she hasn’t been going out much. She sent me, though, to see if you wouldn’t reconsider.”

“I’m not coming home, MacDonald.”

“Well, is there anything you’d like from home?”

“They let you have pets here. I’d like a parakeet.”

“A bird? Seriously?”

“Yeah. A green parakeet.”

“I’ve never seen a green one.”

“Pet stores will dye them any color you ask for.”

“Isn’t that harmful to them?”

“You want to please the parakeet or me?”


“How did it go?” MacDonald’s wife asks.

“That place is a zoo. Well, it’s worse than a zoo—it’s what it is: a dwarf house.”

“Is he happy?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t really get an answer out of him. There’s a giant there who’s starving to death, and he says he’s happier than the giant. Or maybe he said he was as happy. I can’t remember. Have we run out of vermouth?”

“Yes. I forgot to go to the liquor store. I’m sorry.”

“That’s all right. I don’t think a drink would have much effect anyway.”

“It might. If I had remembered to go to the liquor store.”

“I’m just going to call Mother and get it over with.”

“What’s that in your pocket?”

“Candy bars. James gave them to me. He felt sorry for me because I’d given up my lunch hour to visit him.”

“Your brother is really a very nice person.”

“Yeah. He’s a dwarf.”


“I mean that I think of him primarily as a dwarf. I’ve had to take care of him all my life.”

“Your mother took care of him until he moved out of the house.”

“Yeah, well it looks like he found a replacement for her. But you might need a drink before I tell you about it.”

“Oh, tell me.”

“He’s got a little sweetie. He’s in love with a woman who lives in the dwarf house. He introduced me. She’s three feet eleven. She stood there smiling at my knees.”

“That’s wonderful that he has a friend.”

“Not a friend—a fiancée. He claims that as soon as he’s got enough money saved up he’s going to marry this other dwarf.”

“He is?”

“Isn’t there some liquor store that delivers? I’ve seen liquor trucks in this neighborhood, I think.”


His mother lives in a high-ceilinged old house on Newfield Street, in a neighborhood that is gradually being taken over by Puerto Ricans. Her phone has been busy for almost two hours, and MacDonald fears that she, too, may have been taken over by Puerto Ricans. He drives to his mother’s house and knocks on the door. It is opened by a Puerto Rican woman, Mrs. Esposito.

BOOK: Distortions
10.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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