“I do make a point of writing down every imaginable facet of my characters before I begin a book, trying to get to know them so I can figure out how they’ll react in any situation…..My reason for writing now is to live lives other than my own, and I do that by burrowing deeper and deeper….till I reach the center of those lives.”
This is exactly why I am enchanted by the works of Anne Tyler.
Many years back I was putting my cocker spaniel through intermediate training and the instructor, who raised and trained Rottweilers, lampooned the movie The Accidental Tourist on the basis of what she considered an inaccurate representation of the correct way to train a dog. I filed this observation in the back of my mind and it wasn’t until several months later that I watched the movie and despite it’s obvious smarminess, enjoyed all the quirky characters and even accepted the dog training episodes.
At this time I had only read Tyler’s Breathing Lessons and enjoyed it far more than I thought I would (after all, I’m more for exposed bodily fluids and other transgressive fiction with equal parts of reality and unreality). I remember a television special with James Garner but I do not recall how I reacted to the adaptation.
I read the novel The Accidental Tourist not long after seeing the movie and as much as I liked the movie,, I liked the book better. Still, I continued to class Anne Tyler as a popular author of fictional entertainments and generally overlooked her work.
In an effort to read as many books as possible before I move to Florida, I found a hardbound copy of Tyler’s novel, Back When We Were Grownups. I remember a few years earlier when I pulled this book to the side to read and make room for other books .. but I must have buried it under the old mail in a basket on the floor in the corner because I failed to read it then.
But that’s a positive since now I have read Back When We Were Grownups and it was delightful. It compares wonderfully with The Accidental Tourist in the creation of a fascinating group of interesting characters and an equally unusual environment for them to interact in.
The key value that Anne Tyler brings to her novels is the story; themes are not as important as characters. What is going to happen next? What will we learn about a character’s past? Will the routines that have been followed have to change with changes in the neighborhood? Changes in the city? Changes in the country?
The central image of the novel is the “Party House.” No, not for frat parties filled with beer and debauchery, but proper parties to celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings. One character is the cook, another the decorator, another the organizer. But how long will they be able to support the family and maintain the house with the 14 foot ceilings as the years go by?
I am generally against the idea that a novel can be enjoyed because it contains a character who is likable and very familiar to the reader (just like Aunt Mable) but in the case of Tyler’s novel, I will posit that there is one or more characters that you will adopt and enjoy a cup of tea with.
I should look into more novels by Anne Tyler. They are well written and make for a pleasant read. Here is the list from Wikipedia:
- If Morning Ever Comes (1964)
- The Tin Can Tree (1965)
- A Slipping-Down Life (1970)
- The Clock Winder (1972)
- Celestial Navigation (1974)
- Searching for Caleb (1975)
- Earthly Possessions (1977)
- Morgan’s Passing (1980)
- Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)
- The Accidental Tourist (1985)
- Breathing Lessons (1988)
- Saint Maybe (1991)
- Ladder of Years (1995)
- A Patchwork Planet (1998)
- Back When We Were Grownups (2001)
- The Amateur Marriage (2004)
- Digging to America (2006)
- Noah’s Compass (2010)
- The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012)
- A Spool of Blue Thread (2015)