Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Breathing Lessons

Catching up on my reading, part 1

Count me as a huge fan of Anne Tyler. Everything I've read by her--Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Amateur Marriage, The Accidental Tourist and A Patchwork Planet--has been totally breathtaking. So I thought this one, the book that finally netted Tyler her Pulitzer, would be the cream of the crop. While it was still masterful, I found it to actually be the least enjoyable of her books that I've read, mainly because her portrayal of two characters--husband and wife who absolutely cannot stop themselves from compulsively living their quirks and fucking up-- was too real and consequently painful.

The novel takes place over a single day, as Maggie and Ira Moran hit the road for a funeral of an old friend's husband, and make some unexpected stops along the way, including to drop in on their estranged daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Maggie is an extrovert--she strikes up intimate conversations with strangers all the time and can't help herself from telling little white lies and interfering where she shouldn't. Ira is quiet and no-nonsense, but can also be incredibly blunt in the name of honesty. Together they manage to make a mess of things. Tyler includes flashbacks that drift in and out of their marriage's past. It's an incredibly real, compelling, and honest portrait of a "good" marriage, in that although the couple is loyal and devoted, they have their own communication problems and bad patterns that the outside world sees better than they do. But they are both fundamentally decent people, so when Tyler ends the sad little story of their day with a hint of hope, it feels genuine. It comes from Maggie's boundless spirit of optimism.

Tyler's dedication to the truth of the average person's experience--pain, quirks, and all--is stunning, if sometimes hard to read.

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