by Ann Beattie
A middle-aged professor at a middlebrow New England college, Marshall Lockard teaches literature to kids whose tastes run to “old Time magazines and books of Garfield cartoons.” His marriage to Sonja, a real-estate broker, has grown humdrum (she’s having an affair); he has no friends (“there was every possibility he didn’t love anyone,” he reflects); and he has begun experiencing flashbacks to his childhood, which was dysfunctional before dysfunctional was cool. He feels disaffected, and who can blame him?
The problem with this, Beattie’s fifth novel, is that her protagonist’s ennui is contagious. Marshall’s emotional distance permeates the story, making the characters seem hardly more real than the paper dolls Marshall once played with. When a colleague’s alleged indiscretions with a student draw Marshall into a melodrama, it’s hard to care.
Beattie, who spent four years (and one dumped first draft) on Another You, is as keen an observer of human foibles as ever. “There was something about his embarrassment about his protruding teeth,” she writes, describing Marshall’s accused colleague, “that made [Marshall] question whether the events were … unambiguous.” Her fans can only hope that in her next book—short stories, the medium she prefers—Beattie will spin her telling details into a more satisfying whole. (Knopf, $24)