By Jay Parini
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It is raining, and Sam's hair streams down his face. "Hi," Susan says without looking up. "Hi," Sam says. Beginning with dialogue, and built around dialogue, the novel moves loosely from one conversation to the next, the intervening passages most often recording inner deliberation or associative thought. Beattie has always found dialogue easier to write than exposition, and that ease is evident here. In comparison with her later novels, which are more elaborately constructed, the progress of Chilly Scenes of Winter is linear.
A second stint at the University of Virginia in 1980 was her final full-time position; since then, she has been able to lead a life focused on her writing. After a difficult divorce in 1982 ("Getting divorced affected everything, my writing included. It affected the way I walked the dog. I did not recover from it quickly"), Beattie left New York, where she had settled, and moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. It was there that she met her second husband, the artist Lincoln Perry. Both were wary of marriage, but in 1988 they tied the knot in an impromptu ceremony.
The relationship between parent and child—or, just as often, between surrogate parent and child—is one that Beattie probes with great feeling and skill, and the many children in her stories and novels are so intimately drawn that readers are often surprised to learn that Beattie herself has no children. She has always affirmed that though she loves children she decided early on not to have any of her own, and that her ease in writing about them comes from memories of her own childhood and her closeness to the children of friends.
American Writers, Supplement V by Jay Parini