Onlookers is an astute new story collection about people living in the same Southern town whose lives intersect in surprising ways. Peaceful Charlottesville, Virginia, drew national attention when white nationalists held a rally there in 2017, a horrific event whose repercussions are still felt today. Confederate monuments such as General Robert E. Lee atop his horse were then still standing. The statues are a constant presence and a metaphoric refrain throughout this collection, though they represent different things to different characters. Some landmarks may have faded from consciousness but provoke fresh outrage when viewed through newly opened eyes.
In "Nearby," an elderly man and his younger wife watch from their penthouse as protestors gather to oppose the once "heroic" explorers Lewis and Clark depicted towering over their native guide, Sacagawea. A lawyer in "In the Great Southern Tradition" deals with a crisis on Richmond's Monument Avenue, while his sister and nephew plant tulip bulbs at her stately home.
These are stories of unexpected relationships and affiliations that affirm the value of friendship, even when it requires difficult compromises or unexpected risks. Beattie involves the reader in questions about the nature of community, as the characters grapple with complicated inheritances that are both historical and personal and the realities of their lives interact uneasily with the past.
Ann Beattie has been included in five O. Henry Award Collections, in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Short Stories of the Century. She is the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award for achievement in the short story. In 2005, she received the Rea Award for the Short Story. The former Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, she is a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She and her husband, Lincoln Perry, live in Maine, Virginia, and Florida.