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Ann Beattie became famous in the 1970s for a certain kind of spare, unsentimental fiction about alienated and often feckless young baby boomers that managed to seem both terribly contemporary -- even hip -- and impossibly remote, all at the same time. Over the course of producing 11 books of fiction she has grown more generous in her depictions of the emotional lives of her characters -- they seem more often now to have some access to their feelings. But Beattie still paints a world in which people never really see one another, and are as helpless to connect as ping-pong balls floating in an airless room.
In My Life, Starring Dara Falcon, Beattie's narrator is Jean Warner, who doesn't realize she's unhappily married, unhappily situated, until she meets the title character, a disturbed young woman who compulsively pursues other people's husbands and boyfriends and tells self-dramatizing lies about herself. The troublemaker calls herself Dara Falcon, and if you by chance miss the reference to predation in her name, Beattie is careful to point it out to you. Everything, in fact, is obvious in My Life, Starring Dara Falcon -- that Dara is trouble, that she is not to be trusted -- obvious except to Jean, that is. It becomes increasingly difficult to sympathize with Jean Warner and her infatuation and inevitable disillusionment with her beautiful bird of prey. When Jean leaves her husband and his close-knit family, to whom she had at first clung so happily, it is because she wants to live as freely and bravely as she believes Dara does. She goes back to school, "realizing" that her husband is conservative and remote, that he doesn't talk about things. But when he does try to talk to her, she avoids him. Their conversations are impossibly cryptic, as if neither of them believes the other is reachable. No one in this novel seems to believe in the possibility of being understood.
When Jean finally "realizes" that she has been deceived by Dara, her fury is also impossible to believe, because the climactic deception is such a pathetic one. By allowing Jean the last word on the treacherous Dara, Beattie skips over the fact that sweet Jean herself is the novel's most treacherous character. She leaves her best friends and her husband, she cruelly rejects a boy, the son of a friend, she fell into bed with one day trying to avoid visiting her husband. She leaves Dara only when Dara is finally stripped of all pretense. But Beattie shows no insight into her narrator's deficiencies and there is no one in this novel to like, because there is no one, including the author, who understands its protagonists well enough to grow fond of them. -- Salon