Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Life, Starring Dara Falcon by Ann Beattie (1997)

I got a copy of Ann Beattie's My Life, Starring Dara Falcon (1997) when it came out in paperback while I was working at Barnes and Noble in college. We had some remaindered copies, so the covers were torn off and sent back to the distributors, and the books were put in a free box for employees. I've been carrying around this coverless copy of the book for a dozen years, and finally decided to read it. Now I'm happy that I can just recycle the thing.

The book is not bad or poorly written, it is just very dull. Very very very dull. It is the 1970s and our protagonist, Jean Warner, has been living in a small town in New Hampshire for a few years with her husband Bob, who she married at age 19, and near his large family. Jean has no family -- her parents died in a plane crash when she was young, and she is estranged from the aunt who raised her.

Jean and Bob's marriage isn't really working out. He spends a lot of time in Boston, where is is taking classes, and she spends a lot of time feeling resentful and overthinking her relationships with his family members. Then Dara moves back to town. Dara Falcon is an aspiring actress, a dramatic talker, and an unconventional person. At first Jean doesn't really like her. Then Dara pulls Jean into her orbit and Jean thinks she is just great.

Things sort of happen -- Jean leaves her husband, Dara leaves her boyfriend and moves to New York, there is a play, there is a fancy ring, someone dies, there are revelations, but none of the pieces fit together into any kind of moving whole. The book hinges on the changing intensities of the relationship between Jean and Dara, but not enough time is spent on building this critical relationship. It would have been better if Jean was one-sidedly obsessed with Dara, or if the two of them were mutually bad for each other, or if Dara held more sway over Jean's decisions. As it is written, it is sort of all of these things and sort of none of these things. Nothing is pushed to a dramatic point, or realistically described and character building either. Except for one scene where Jean spontaneously sleeps with the grown son of one of her husband's friends (which was a great scene, but ends up going nowhere), everything is quotidian, predictable, and unaffecting with a big scoop of predictable 1970s feminism on top.

But at least this poor coverless book won't be on my bookshelf anymore...

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