Anne Tyler Part Two : “Breathing Lessons” (1988) and “The Accidental Tourist” (2002) – book reviews

One could, and I suspect will, wax lyrical about Anne Tyler indefinitely. Two more book reviews from Mr P and Yours Truly for another couple of classic reads:

Nicola on “Breathing Lessons

Yet again, Mrs T’s touch is unerringly sure, as she travels that much familiar route of the shared journey of a marriage and a family caught up in the maelstrom of familiarity. This is the one that earned her the Pulitzer in 1989, and am most definitely on the side of those who applaud this decision.

Maggie and Ira Moran have been married for what undoubtedly feel like twenty-eight very long years, and we spend just a day, but a very memorable one for the reader, in their company as they travel to a friend’s funeral. We get to observe firsthand Maggie’s unstoppable urge to meddle in other loved one’s affairs, and witness her pressing need to fix what is not hers to fix, as she blatantly refuses to see things as they really are.

The pivotal character of this tale would much rather see things the way she’d prefer them to be. And who can’t relate to that? It’s a bit of a case of misplaced goodwill, and like stepping into familiar territory all over again. All that earnest chasing of tails and rose-coloured spectacles. For me, this read is even better than “A Spool of Blue Thread”.

It’s also fascinating to watch two people who know each other inside out and can catch every nuance in everything that is said and, even more poignantly, un-said :

“Mabel was nodding, all sympathy, but Ira of course thought Maggie was acting overemotional. He didn’t say so, but he shifted in his seat; that was how she knew. She ignored him”.

“ ‘Who asked for the facts, Maggie? Why do you feel the need to pour out your soul to some waitress?’ ”

“Ira winced. Waste, waste, and more waste, all for nothing. The long drive and the forced conversation and the long drive home again, for absolutely nothing”.

“He obeyed, mostly out of exhaustion”.

Anne Tyler does not put a foot out of place in conveying the smallness and grandiose nature of life all at once. Beware, though – I suspect there are only two camps to fall into – bored rigid by the minutiae and recounting of everyday doings and non-events, or completely bewitched by the flawless of capturing of we mere mortals shuffling along. I know where I sit!

Rating : 10/10

Mr P on “The Accidental Tourist

Just finished ‘The Accidental Tourist’ by Anne Tyler and enjoyed it immensely, no, more than that: I ‘connected’ with it!  

Maybe it’s an age and stage thing, but the anatomy of relationships I find utterly absorbing and the author’s portrayal of the ‘careful’ and the ‘careless’ is touchingly done.

It’s amazing how two people can be so close and yet so apart, and then just as you think they’re apart enough to be separate, come together in a warm flurry of accidental entanglement again.

I seem to know those characters so well, especially Macon: so nearly ordered and organised, so nearly settled and secure; and yet never quite resident in domestic nirvana because of course nirvana is by its nature unnerving, disordered, unsettling and ultimately spontaneous, and to embrace spontaneity can to men like Macon and me be as mad as jumping off a moving bus.

Anne Tyler’s observation of character is so good that in fact she gently manipulates our sympathy by allowing us to get to know her people one by one. As we get to know them, so we get to like them, and as we get to like them so we want it to end well for them, but life’s not like that. Poor Sarah – but in the end she’s not the one we’re closest too. Have I given the game away?

Another American must-read.

Images taken from here and here.
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9 Responses to Anne Tyler Part Two : “Breathing Lessons” (1988) and “The Accidental Tourist” (2002) – book reviews

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  3. Anne Tyler’s starting to intimidate me because I’ve never read a book by her and as I become more aware of how incredible her back-catalogue is, I’m almost afraid to start. You’ve gone a good way towards convincing me though… which book do you think I should start with? Part of me wants to read ‘A Spool’ to complete the Bailey’s short list, but another part thinks that this is a pretty superficial way of being introduced to such a prolific and lauded author.

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  4. Hi, I think you might like “Ladder of Years”, which is the one I read most recently and haven’t reviewed yet – another family set up with the Tyler brand of familiarity where the characters are all somehow recognisable and nothing is black or white. I wouldn’t read the latest one first as don’t believe it’s her best! but would also recommend “Breathing Lessons” which earned her the Pulitzer. Let me know as and when you do read her, you won’t be disappointed, am certain. Nicolax

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  5. tomthesnail says:

    Looked out a couple of Anne Tylers whilst doing a stint on the book stall at the village fete – definitely in my TBR pile now 😀 TTS

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi TTS, nothing like a good book stall for having a rootle around – am very happy that you have bought some A.T. and look forward to hearing what you think of them in due course. Hope the weather was ok for the fête, after days of airlessness we have had rain all day today. Good for nature, not so great for the Tour de France final…! Nx

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