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Ann Beattie: Falling in Place

Though the themes of this novel are similar to those in her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, this novel seems more alive, perhaps because the characters are better drawn and there are more key characters. The main character is John Knapp, a forty-year old advertising executive. At weekends, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, Louise, their fifteen year old daughter, Mary and their ten year old son, John Joel. During the week, he lives with his mother and his five year old son Brandt, nominally to be closer to his job but actually to be closer to Nina, his twenty-five year old girlfriend, who works for Lord and Taylor. The other main characters are Cynthia, who is teaching Mary at summer class and her pot-smoking live-in boyfriend, Peter, who used to be Nina’s boyfriend and is currently away on a trip. The Knapp family is your usual dysfunctional family. John and Louise snap at each all the time. Mary perpetually torments John Joel, calling him retard, as he is both overweight and a loner, having just the one friend, the decidedly disturbed Parker. Like the characters in Chilly Scenes of Winter, these characters all too often have not quite adjusted to the 1970s, stuck in their 1960s drugs and 1960s music and unsure of what they are going to do with their lives, waiting, as Charles did in Chilly Scenes of Winter, for something. When John Joel, tired of being tormented by Mary and aided and abetted by Parker, shoots his sister, things do change but not necessarily the way they should.

There is no question that this is a more ambitious novel than its predecessor. Not only is the cast of characters greater, we get to see the action from several perspectives and not just from the main character’s point of view. The background of New York and suburban Connecticut as well as the cultural and political references flesh out the story much more. How much this works in the twenty-first century is open to conjecture but, in 1980, it was a very fine novel.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by Random House