Those of you who have read and enjoyed an Anne Tyler novel will need no convincing to read the rest of her lengthy bibliography. Those of you who have never delved into her catalogue may be in for a real treat. It all depends on your taste in literature and your reason for engaging in the process of reading. If you want to be taken away to exotic lands where you will begin adventures you will never have in your everyday lives, Tyler is not the author for you. However, if you want a fascinating look inside the world you may already occupy, prepare yourself for an insightful and even delightful experience.
With the release of her next novel, Vinegar Girl, her catalogue will stand at 21 novels as well as many short stories and even a children’s book or two. Her list of awards for fiction is embarrassingly long including a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 and a Time Magazine Book of the Year for her novel Ladder of Years in 1995. As well, her novels have been adapted to film no less than six times. But perhaps you are not yet convinced to take the literary plunge. Here, however, it gets a little tricky.
Unlike the up and coming Zade Smith who is about to publish her fourth novel, the third one that is set in a cross cultural and economically downtrodden section of London, Tyler focuses her talent in novels peopled by relatively well off Baltimore families composed of white men, women and children living their mostly ordinary lives.
Mothers and often father’s, raise children who in turn raise families of their own. There is marital conflict, economic challenges, disappointment, joy and loss. In many reviewer’s opinions, however, the writing itself is far from the common variety.
Not everyone agrees. Tyler has been called breathtaking, superb and transcendent by reviewers across the globe. And her list of awards and accolades support this opinion. She has also been called the literary equivalent of Martha Stewart and a writer for the milk and cookies set. You must read her work in order to decide for yourself.
No matter where she sets her female characters, predominantly in her own home of Baltimore, where Tyler herself has lived since 1967, and no matter their age or occupation, they have many deep and nuanced things to say about the life of women in this age within the family structure. Her women are almost all deeply flawed and confused heroes of everyday life, often trying to figure out who they are and what, if anything, they have done wrong to arrive at the condition in which they find themselves. One cannot help but be drawn into their voyages of self-discovery and to where it will ultimately lead.
The male characters in her books, although Tyler herself may not agree, tend to be less: less competent, less present and less self-actualized although perhaps not less interesting. They do tend to be taken along for the ride in most of her novels while her female characters often do the driving.
So, are you that reader? If you are drawn to the dark, the dangerous and the torrid, you may want to give Tyler’s novels a pass but, if you are interested in the human experience itself and particularly the inner life of some complex, present day characters, you may be about to embark on a journey with some enthralling, and often quirky, new friends.
Christine Ethier is a textbook author, web writer, communication consultant, and retired university English instructor. She was born in Peterborough ON and now lives in New Brunswick with her unparalleled husband and two wonderful fur babies.