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Ann Beattie: Another You
Epistolary novels used to be very popular but gradually they fell out of favour. That is not to say that there haven’t been one or two that have worked – John Barth‘s Letters is an obvious example. Beattie tries the mysterious letter approach. That is, she intersperses letters from an anonymous M to someone called Martine and we do not learn till much later who Martine and M are and their relationship with the named characters. As is usual in Beattie’s novels, the theme is love or, rather, failed love, and several of the main characters are having an affair. Marshall and Sonja Lockard are married. Sonja, a real estate agent, is having an affair with her boss, Tony (they use the empty houses they are selling for their trysts). Marshall, while out driving, sees one of his students, Cheryl, hitchhiking, gives her a lift and takes her for a drink. He is considering whether to have an affair with her when he learns of her problems. Her roommate, Livan, has allegedly been raped by being tied to a bed by one of Marshall’s colleagues, Jack McCallum. Marshall backs off from his planned affair and, instead, confronts McCallum. McCallum is incoherent and is finally persuaded to spend the night at the Lockards. Next morning McCallum’s wife turns up, armed with a knife, and attempts to kill her husband. Matters become more complicated when Sonja confesses her affair and tells Marshall about his own father’s affair. When McCallum is released from hospital, the two men take a trip together. En route they plan to stop in Cheryl’s hometown so that McCallum can ask her forgiveness. However, McCallum had previously had an affair with Cheryl’s mother and is planning to continue to do so. The identities, if we hadn’t guessed, of M and Martine are revealed.
In her earlier novels Beattie had shown great skill in wittily dissecting the foibles of the 60s, going on to the 70s generation as well as portraying the unhappiness of love. That the love affairs of all parties in this novel are, to say the least, chaotic, is evident. No-one is happy; many are or feel betrayed and Beattie portrays this well. However, her more serious approach leaves us relying on the story to keep us entertained and, frankly, messy though it is, we find we miss the humour of the earlier novels, the skewering of the 60s baby boomers struggling with the 70s. It is after all 1995 when she wrote this and the 70s and all that they meant are long since gone and we know what happened. Diving back into the past, as she does with the letters, may be an interesting approach but somehow it doesn’t make up for what we have lost.
First published 1995 by Knopf