An unsettling novel that traces the faltering orbits of the members of one family from a hidden love triangle to the ten-year-old son whose problem may pull everyone down.
Seriously, folks, Falling in Place is an extraordinary book and deserves to be counted among post-WWII 20th century American classics. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But few books succeed as this book does in both capturing their era (in this case the malaise days of the late 1970s) and speaking to all ages.
This is the story of how one family, no more or less dysfunctional than anyoneÂ¡Â¯s, manages to do just the opposite of the title, namely, fall completely apart. It is about family whose members forget they love each other --or forget how to love each other-- until it is too late. The book is a tragedy writ both large and small.
In short, not even Cheever does a better job of exposing the mix of boredom, depravity, lies and heartbreaking affection behind the picket fences of suburbia. And to top it all off Beattie manages to deal with the then trendy "battle of the sexes" without taking sides --and remember this she did nearly three decades ago. This novel needs to be rediscovered. Perhaps, its fate is due to Beattie's overshadowing success in short fiction. But there is room for both Beatties. There must be.
I also notice the extreme polarity of opinion to Beattie's novels in the reviews below. One has to be in the right frame of mind to read Beattie, who when she wrote 'Falling in Place,' was just coming out of what the critics had called the 'minimalist' movement. Beattie's prose is quite terse, giving the reader a feeling fo averageness. Why? She is quite a realist and herein lies the hidden beauty in her words. In Beatties world the characters just are; They are not likeable or unlikeable and that is the point. No one in life is quite one or the other. And her words. At length, here's a passage from page 51:
Why Spangle? Because there was no one like him, that was part of it. One day, he had taken her hand, before they were even out of bed, and asked if he could hold it all day. When they had to go to the bathroom, they walked back to the apartment, so they wouldn't have to let go of eachothers hands. They had walked along swinging hands. They had propped their elbows on a tabletop and hand-wrestled. He had kissed her hand, rubbed it. "I'm pretending I can keep you," he said. "I'm pretending it's as easy as this."
The reader reads "Falling in Place" to fall in love with prose and characters, not plot and action. And my, there are plenty of characters worthy of attention here. Spangle, the all-too-grown up slacker, Mary, the dreary teenage girl obsessed with Peter Frampton, and Cynthia, the depressed summer-school teacher who, no matter how she tries, can feel nothing but contempt for her students.Read more ›
None of the characters are at all likeable. As soon as you begin to even consider liking one, you get to hear the person's thoughts or see some action that renders them vile. People here just sort of exist, just slide through life, without dreams or ambitions or desires. They take what is handed to them--friends they dislike, stagnant relationships--without liking these things, but without even considering the possibility of taking action to change them. As much as I hate perpetuating stereotypes, I'd have to say that all of the protagonists act and think like stereotypical bored teenagers. Of everyone mentioned in the book, I can only think of one peripheral character whom I liked even a little, and that only because she showed enthusiam occasionally--and in a pivotal scene, two of the book's main characters bonded over making fun of her.
The writing bored me, literally, to tears (which writing has the power to do when you absolutely have to read it for a class). I could not have cared less for her obsessive descriptions of rooms--attempts at characterization through listing, for pages and pages straight, each item lining the walls of someone's personal space. One such description went on for four entire pages. Pages simply listing objects in the room. Imagine an entire book filled with long, dry lists acting as descriptoins of mundane places inhabited by people you don't care about.
If this still seems like something you'd be interested in--well, get it out of the library anyway. It's not worth buying on spec; it's only worth buying if you already know you find something redeeming inside. This was one of the flat-out worst books I read on my way to my English degree, and I can comfortably say that I found nothing to redeem it.