***This is a review of an upcoming release. This title is scheduled to be released on March 22, 2022.***
In my twenties, I read a ton of Anne Tyler. If you had asked 25-year-old me who my favorite author was, she would have been my pick, probably without hesitation. I can name you five or six Tyler books that I loved, whose existence changed me.
At that time, twenty-five year old me read nothing but contemporary fiction (or, as I am sure my younger, more pretentious self would have called it, contemporary literature). I was smart, a little over-educated, and thought…not that I was too good for genre, but that genre wasn’t quite good enough for me.
All that changed in 1994, on the way to Florida, when I grabbed a Julie Smith book on the way to the airport and my twenty+ year love affair with mysteries and thrillers was born.
So, it’s interesting, from the perspective of someone who has read little but books that have propulsive plots, have things happening on every page, have sex and violence and cliffhangers in abundance…it’s interesting to step back into a world that I have largely left behind. The world of the closely-examined life, the world where the detail of what is scrawled into the side panel of a clock will be called back to as a metaphor for the disconnect between parents and their children. A world where the most mundane details are exquisitely rendered as a way of calling attention to their ordinariness.
Anne Tyler brilliantly calls attention to our ordinariness, to our sameness. To our shared foibles, our shared humanity.
Nothing much happens in this book. There’s a family, a husband and his wife, an artist, who tamps down her wanderlust in order to raise a family, although never quite as successfully as she thinks. There are their three children, so different from one another that their DNA provides the only tenuous connection, a connection that will weaken further with time. The grandchildren who, as adults, can barely remember each others’ names. The life events that shape them. Weddings, births, graduations. The inheritance of a leather recliner is treated with as much consequence in an Anne Tyler book as a golden anniversary, and in many ways, that is justified. Anne Tyler books are all about the minutiae, the tiny parts of daily living that weave together into a life.
And here is the thing, the real crux. I don’t read books like this anymore. I have become dependent on things happening in the books I read, addicted to the endorphin high of an explosive resolution, of a cleverly-crafted ending, the unreliability of a suspicious narrator. Anne Tyler does not give me the dopamine hit that Robert Crais does, or Lee Child, or Harlan Coben.
But that does not mean that Anne Tyler is not a brilliant writer. She is, and spending a day with her every once in a while, meditating on the human condition is a lovely, contemplative exercise. I would do well to remember that.
Recommended for anyone who has ever been part of a family.