Another You

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Another You is Ann Beattie’s fourth published novel; she has also produced several collections of short fiction. This novel focuses on Marshall Lockard, a professor of English at a small college in New Hampshire and a man of limited emotional response. He has a childless marriage that is comfortable for him. He has a job that allows him to indulge his love for literature without becoming too involved in the lives of his students. He has a stepmother who reared him and who is now in a nursing home; he does not visit her but leaves that duty to Sonja, his wife.

Into this placid life comes Jack MacCallum, a colleague whom Marshall does not know well and does not especially like. MacCallum is a careless man, like Marshall lacking emotional depth but willing to throw himself into dangerous situations. Cheryl Lanier, a student in one of Marshall’s English classes, comes to him with a story about a supposed assault by MacCallum against a woman friend of hers. In the course of asking Marshall to intervene with the college’s counseling service, where the friend reportedly has received little sympathy or understanding, Cheryl flirts with Marshall, and he finds himself attracted to her. He tries to arrange an appointment at the counseling service with a friend of his wife, but he also calls MacCallum and decides that he sounds guilty.

Returning from a strange visit to Cheryl, Marshall finds MacCallum at his house, telling his side of the story to Sonja, who has had no previous knowledge of the episode. MacCallum, whose wife has thrown him out, spends the night on the Lockards’ sofa. After the Lockards leave for work the next morning, MacCallum’s pregnant wife enters the house and tries to kill her husband with a knife. The woman who had allegedly been molested disappears, and while MacCallum is in the hospital recovering from his wounds, Cheryl confesses to Marshall that the assault had happened to her, years before and far away, and that her friend had appropriated the story and made it her own. An article in the local newspaper reveals that the supposed victim was actually an undercover narcotics agent.

Sonja, in the meantime, has also been busy. She has been carrying on an affair with her boss, Tony Hembley, in which they cavort in empty houses listed with his real estate firm. When Hembley invites Sonja and Marshall to stay at his house while their own house is being cleaned, the Lockards refuse. In the aftermath, however, Sonja confesses to Marshall her relationship with Hembley and promises that the affair is at an end. As noted earlier, Sonja has been the one who regularly visits Marshall’s stepmother, Evie, first in the nursing home and later, after the third in a series of strokes, in the hospital. Marshall’s guilt at not visiting his stepmother seems to balance out Sonja’s guilt over her affair with Hembley.

Sonja’s revelation does not seem to affect Marshall deeply. He worries that she might leave him, and he feels some resentment toward Tony Hembley, but otherwise he accepts what Sonja tells him. He is equally undisturbed by the increasing illness of Evie, his stepmother. Even after her third stroke puts her life in danger, he cannot stir himself to visit her in the hospital. He is sorry when she dies, but by no means shattered. It is typical of Marshall that his relationship with Cheryl Lanier never goes beyond a single kiss, which leaves him with more guilt than excitement.

A further complication is the presence of Jenny Oughton, Sonja’s friend, the counselor whom Marshall intends to consult about MacCallum’s alleged behavior. He misses their appointment but meets her at the hospital where MacCallum is being treated. It turns out that she had been MacCallum’s therapist at an earlier time and cannot share her knowledge of him with Marshall. Later Jenny meets with Sonja for lunch and reveals that she plans to leave her job, her husband, and her children to go to Santa Fe, which she envisions as having a freer atmosphere; she also reveals that she is lesbian.

After some setbacks, MacCallum begins to recover from his wounds, and Marshall agrees that during the college’s spring break he will drive MacCallum on a trip to Key West, Florida, where Marshall’s brother has a business. During their journey, MacCallum convinces Marshall to make a side trip to a town in Virginia where Cheryl, who has left school, has gone to be with her mother. It has previously been revealed that MacCallum had had an affair, many years earlier, with the woman who became Cheryl’s mother, and he says that he wants to renew his acquaintance with this old flame.


(The entire section is 1899 words.)