her mission, Beattie herself was asnamoral and indifferent as the dial.nBy the time her next novel, LovenAlways, was published in 1985, Beattienwas accorded all of the usual distinctions:n”The essential literary voicenof the generation that came of age innthe 1960’s,” wrote Christopher Lehman-Hauptnin the Times; “A literarynhigh priestess of the Baby Boomers’ngeneration,” offered Josh Rubins innThe New York Review of Books. Butnsomething was wrong. Love Alwaysnwas also received as a fall from grace.nJust as the society that she had beennwriting about had been moving intonless neutral or more extreme positions,nBeattie herself had become more of anpresence. Worse yet, the empathy thatnhad figured in her earlier work hadnbeen transformed here—not into sympathynbut rather into an aloof disdainnfor her characters.nIn view of her own work, the idea toninvite Beattie to respond to the representationalnpaintings of the celebratednAlex Katz was irresistible. Many of thenfigures in Katz’s paintings might haveneasily walked off the pages of Beattie’snfictions. His paintings give “still-life” annew meaning—one that suggests thenspirit or elan of life has become stagnantnand uneventful for his subjects.nWhen art critic Robert Rosenbloomndescribes Katz, he might just as well bentalking about Beattie: “What begins asna way of seeing that can be literalnenough to record … is uncannilyntransformed into a still imperturbablenworld that is simultaneously rooted in,nbut remote from, our prosaic environment.”nAt its worst, Beattie’s discussion ofnKatz reads like an extended press release,nfilled more with glowing redundanciesnthan with critical insights. Atnits best, it divulges Beattie’s unguardednattitude to her own earlier work andnaccounts for the creative impulse beneathnher fictions. By the second ornthird page of her 70-page treatise, itnbecomes eminently clear that herncommentary on Katz serves only toonwell as an explanation of her ownnstories and novels. By the 10th page,nwe sense that she’s describing her ownnwork even more than Katz, evidentlynwithout her realizing that she’s fallenninto such a trap.n”Katz says,” she tells us, “that he isnnot interested in the psychology of hisnAlex Katz’s Summer Triptych. Photo co urtesy Marlborough Gallery,nsubjects when he paints them, or interestednin what they think after thenfact.” A few paragraphs later she explainsnthat his paintings are “simplificationsnthat point out complexities.”nLater still, that he “creates . . .nhuman representations that are standinsnfor attitude” and that “people missnthe point when they talk about Katznbut not necessarily what they — ornKatz for that matter—might signify tonanother viewer. Much of her analysisnhere focuses on where these figures aren”at,” where they are coming from, orngoing to. Perhaps she never quite overcamena feeling that she was out of hernelement, or stretching her authority,nby writing about a painter. Perhaps it’snpainting surfaces; actually, he distrusts even more ingrained than that: Beat-nsurfaces so much that he will not allow tie’s special narratorless voice does notnthem to provide easy definitions of his serve the purposes of a nonfiction ex­nsubjects.” This last remark, defensiveploration.ly delivered, could be a direct reactionnto those critics who have accused Beattienof being superficial in her ownnwork.nBy spending long sessions with Katznhimself, interviewing a number of hisnsubjects, and quoting other painters,nBeattie made gestures in the right di­nApproaching something of a sumrection. But her emphasis on the submary,nBeattie argues that “Katz is unject and context of the paintings isndeniably more interested in coherencenthan in chaos, but what he chroniclesnmay be a strain or alienation that hisnsubjects pay a price for, and what thenpainter does, himself, is not easy.nWhat is communicated from the variousnimages of sunny days and closenembraces can still be fairly interpretednas complex, contradictory, and sad ornfrightening. Katz presents the imagesncoolly [“cool” is perhaps the mostnfrequently employed word to describenBeattie’s fiction], and his interest is innformality: in people who are not harriednor passionate or in a state of chaos.nBut one need not enact extremes to benso dramatic that one is convincing.n. . . Working out of a naturalisticntradition . . . Katz has decided to posenus with the problem of a vision innwhich he is interested in what is simple,nbut to present that simplicity in annexaggerated way.”nalways at the expense of technique.nFor this reason alone, her book failsnto bridge the gap between the visualnand narrative spheres. If anything,nAnn Beattie’s study of Alex Katz unwittinglynperpetrates the late-20thcenturynmyth that one artistic mediumnmust remain enigmatic to, and impenetrablenby, another.nStill, Alex Katz is a handsome specimennof a book. At the very least, it isnbound to survive as a mid-80’s curiosity.nBut in using the paintings of AlexnKatz to explain, inadvertently, hernown fictions, Beattie’s most interestingnmessage remains covert. What shendoesn’t say, but what her own work hasnmade clear, and what her investigationsnhave now imparted to Katz’snwork, is that a specter of ennui hasnbecome an inescapable subtext, if notna context, for the contemporary sensibility.nBeattie likes to talk around her subject,nusually along the lines of describingnwhat these paintings mean to her.nnnDavid Kaufman writes from NewnYork.nSEPTEMBER 1987 159n