In a Beattie story there are voices inside voices, and a man with earplugs to warn us of the dangers of tuning out. We listen to a liar with delusions of grandeur and to an analyzer of novels with a paper badge, because we’re in a story where the characters themselves want to know what happened, where each knows a version and a piece. We collect and weigh details deliberately invoked but seemingly random, and we know what we know because someone filled someone in. Beattie writes about deceiving ourselves and each other. We scan the dial, listening to gossips for the truth.
“The Rock” is crowded with split-second histories, so compressed that each could be the whole thing. It’s tempting to believe it when somebody says, “The story is pretty much this.” Smile at that, but don’t believe it. The story churns and brightens, characters deepen and go flat. Just when it can’t get any more complex, there’s a turn, more trouble, more fun—because chaos looks like life. Beattie knows we approach her work with a highlighter. She drags us in and before we know it, the entire story is yellow.