Saturday, April 25, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Ann Beattie's "The Indian Uprising"

Ann Beattie
While explaining what drove her to write her short story “The Indian Uprising” in the “Contributors’ Notes” of The Best American Short Stories 2014, Ann Beattie remarks, “Is this oblique?”  She is referring to her explanation of the story’s origin, but she could easily have asked the same question about the story itself because there is nothing at all straightforward about “The Indian Uprising,” including its title. 

The story begins with a conversation between two unidentified people who do not seem to be much listening to each other.  Instead, each makes his/her point in succession even though the points only occasionally intersect.  But Maude, as it turns out, is pretty much the only one of Frank Chadwick’s former creative writing students who have bothered to stay in touch with him at all through the years. 

The diabetic complications that Frank suffers have made him a man much older than his seventy-one years, and during the celebratory lunch to mark his birthday at a nearby Mexican restaurant, Maud notices that a good bit of blood has seeped through the white sock on Frank’s swollen foot.  In a matter of minutes, Maude has fainted, and is being tended to while Frank is being escorted to the hospital by Savannah, the transgendered receptionist from his apartment building. 

On his way out of the restaurant, Frank loudly announces that he is borrowing one of the sombreros hung on the wall like one borrows “an umbrella” in similar situations.  Someone says, “There might be an Indian uprising if we try to stop him,” and Frank is allowed to go merrily on his way, sombrero and all.  (So the Mexican restaurant diners are the “Indians” ?)

A short while after Frank’s death, Maude decides to write about the experience and her relationship with Frank.  But Maude, a poet, decides that there is no poem to be had from the incident, and decides to try a short story, instead because “a lot of people do that when they can’t seem to figure out who or what they love.  It might be an oversimplification, but they seem to write poetry when they do know.”

I realize (and regret) that my thoughts about the story probably include enough information to spoil it for other readers, but that is how mystified I am about this particular Ann Beatty story being chosen for a “Best American Short Story” anthology.  Perhaps it was chosen because its theme is one that intrigues other writers.  But it is all just a little too much “inside baseball” for me, and it left me feeling rather cold towards it. 

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