An Analysis of Ann Beattie's "Snow"
Ann Beattie's "Snow"
Commentary by Karen Bernardo
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Ann Beattie's short story "Snow" is only a few pages long, and its brevity is no accident. It tells the story of
an unnamed narrator who "grew up, fell in love, and spent the winter with her lover in the country." On the one
hand, this single winter may seem like an almost insignificant moment in time; and as the author tries to
reconstruct precisely what happens that winter, the details her memory produces do seem rather paltry.
Or are they? She recalls a chipmunk jumping out of a pile of firewood and running through the house. She recalls
when she and her lover painted the kitchen yellow, covering up garish wallpaper printed with grapes as big as
ping-pong balls, and she remembers her persistent feeling that the grapevines were too hardy to be undermined by
something as wishy-washy as a coat of paint; she fully expected them to come "popping through, the way some plants
can tenaciously push through anything." She remembers, more than anything, snow -- snow so pervasive that it filled
the sky like an enormous field of Queen Anne's lace.
These memories are significant, because in every case there is a sense of something indigenous being taken over by
something that really doesn't belong there. The chipmunk belonged in the firewood, just as to the chipmunk a stack
of wood "belongs" outside; he should be disconcerted at finding himself inside, but he runs through the library and
stops "at the front door as if it knew the house well." The chipmunk was indigenous to this place; the lovers are
interlopers. Similarly, the dated wallpaper belonged to the house, and the new coat of yellow paint seems out of
place because the people who applied that paint don't belong there. The metaphor of falling snow as Queen Anne's
lace is apt here because Queen Anne's lace -- which is a wildflower -- does not belong in the sky, and it doesn't
grow in the winter.
She mentions one last memory, which actually takes place some years after the winter she lived there. The gentleman
in the house next door dies, and the narrator returns to pay her respects to the widow. She looks back at what "had
been our house" and sees several crocuses poking weakly through the April ground. Rather than seeing them as
symbolic of the power of life against death, she says the flowers "couldn't compete."
Can't compete with what? We are always encouraged to put the past behind us, to set our eyes on the horizon and go
on. In this case the author has done that. She and her lover have broken up, and she has (apparently) gone on with
her life. But try as she might, she cannot negate the power that winter in the country still holds on her
imagination; she cannot dismiss it as unimportant. If we are defined by a single moment in our lives, for her, that
winter had the power to define her.
"Snow" can be found in the collection "Where You'll Find Me and Other Stories."
It is available in paperback from Amazon here: