My Life, Starring Dara Falcon

Ann Beattie, Author Alfred A. Knopf $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-679-45502-8
Raised after her parents' death by an unloving maiden aunt, young Jean Warner has struggled to leave the loneliness of her childhood behind: she dropped out of college, rushed into marriage and lost herself as best she could in the bosom of her husband's large, close-knit New Hampshire family. But when she falls under the spell of Darcy Fisher, aka Dara Falcon, a seductive aspiring actress with a mysterious past, Jean's marriage begins to reveal its flaws, and Jean is forced to taste the bitterness that permeates her new family's claustrophobic self-involvement. In what is her first true coming-of-age novel, Beattie (Picturing Will; Another You) returns to the 1970s that she once chronicled firsthand--almost invariably, for her characters, a time of domestic dissolution and disillusionment. As in Beattie's more recent novels, however, the pain here holds some promise of redemption, or at least eventual contentment (Jean tells her story from the safe distance of the 1990s and a happy second marriage). The texture of Nixon- and Ford-era upper-middle-class life, the minutiae and conversational rhythms that made Beattie's name as an observer of contemporary culture, bear less of her story's burden than they do in earlier fiction. In all, this is perhaps Beattie's most traditional work to date (it is certainly one of her most accomplished): in their different ways, heroine and villainess live out the dictum (most famously phrased by George Eliot) that character is destiny. Or, as Jean puts it, ""Unless you're very, very lucky--which, as everyone knows, we so rarely are when we really, truly need luck--those things we've done wrong will inevitably boomerang."" What finally separates Jean from Dara, and from many of Beattie's most pathetic (and sympathetic) characters, is the ability to learn from her own failings. That ability makes this novel a comedy--and something of a relief for readers who have always trusted Beattie to tell the truth about her generation's romantic troubles, even when the truth was all cloud and no silver lining. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 04/01/1997
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