And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away
by Ann Beattie
Issue #199 • November 13, 2014•Buy Now!
The idea to sell her desserts at the farmers’ market was not Nona’s, but when her sister Prue said it, Nona’s husband instantly agreed it was what she should do. Whatever she baked was wonderful, and always so inventive and conversation-inspiring.
Nona’s husband, Worth, was between jobs. Or, if head hunters didn’t find anything for him, he was retired at fifty-eight—though the buyout he’d taken from his previous job made both of them feel a bit less sour about the company he’d worked for. Everyone else hated their former employers, resented their belittling offers of settlement, but Worth had landed on his feet, feeling better than when he’d first heard about the company’s New England branch closing.
Prue had arrived at Nona and Worth’s house for a visit in early August. Except for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, Maine was already emptier of cars and tourists. Today was an overcast, cool day at the farmers’ market. No doubt the relative peacefulness was what made the Jam Lady talkative. Jam Lady and her awful husband Howard had invited the three of them to a cookout the previous week, and Nona had brought a peach pie with almonds. She’d used a little rye flour in the crust with unsalted butter. The peaches had been combined with some diced kumquats, and instead of the usual raisins, Nona had added ground walnuts as well as the almonds, mixed with toasted pignoli, and as a last- minute inspiration, a tablespoon of red basil from the garden. The pie had been a big success.
Ann Beattie’s The New Yorker Stories was named one of the ten best books of 2010 by the New York Times. Scribner will publish her new collection, The State We’re In: Maine Stories in 2015. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She and her husband live in Maine and Key West.
Patrick Ryan on And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away
There’s a phenomenon that occurs in an Ann Beattie story that always lets me know I’m reading an Ann Beattie story. The most apt comparison I can think of is that it’s a little like watching a Robert Altman film (when Altman was at the top of his game)—but in Beattie’s stories, instead of the characters all talking for their lives, they’re thinking for their lives. Even when we’re tethered to the thoughts of a single character, there’s a staccato of observations, conclusions, and second-guessing going on—all of it pinballing through outside stimuli.
In the case of “And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away,” much of the outside stimuli arises from a farmers’ market. If you’ve spent any time at all in a busy farmers’ market and wondered at its bustle not just of commerce but of personalities, you’ll know what an accurate portrait of that environment Beattie has created here. And, more importantly, at the heart of this story is another portrait: Nona and Prue—two sisters in their later years, each trying to help the other out emotionally, and each doing a less than perfect job of it.
No proper introduction of this wonderful story would be complete without mentioning the pies. The pies! You’ll be entranced by the care and inventiveness Nona puts into her baking. You’ll smell the pies as Prue cradles them and boxes them up. And a little part of you—probably nestled in the pit of your stomach—will ache as those pies are bought and carried away by people who aren’t you. Still, “And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away” doesn’t belong to the pies; it belongs to the sisters, both of whom I fell a little bit in love with.
We’re delighted to be publishing this new story by the legendary Ann Beattie. It will both fill you up and leave you wanting more: more Nona, more Prue, more Beattie.
Q&A by Patrick Ryan