Saturday, November 8, 2014

Breathing Lessons, by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler has always had a gift for creating quirky characters, deeply flawed but somehow endearing. Through these characters, she explores family life--what is gained and lost in the process of giving oneself to parents, siblings, husbands/wives, children and grandchildren.

While Breathing Lessons--the title refers to the instructions given to modern pregnant women (the book was written in the late 1980s), lessons that earlier generations would have found ridiculous--features a long-married couple struggling with the limitations on their lives. Ira Moran gave up his dream of becoming a doctor to take over the family frame shop so he could support his father and two sisters, one who is developmentally disabled, the other agoraphobic. His wife Maggie disappointed her parents by taking a job at a nursing home after high school and deciding that she would rather work there than go to college; 30 years later, she is still there. Their son is a divorced ne'er-do-well with a daughter he never sees; their daughter is about to leave home for college.

Unfortunately, I found Maggie--the central character--to lack the endearing quality of other Tyler heroines. She is a meddler who does not learn from the havoc she has wreaked, particularly in her son's life; she has no common sense, managing, for example, to cause three minor accidents in the one day in which the book takes place (with numerous flashbacks); she behaves inappropriately (really, who would think it was a good idea to have sex in her best friend's bedroom just minutes after the memorial service for the friend's late husband?); she is judgmental--people who wear shrimp pink are cheap, for example. One can only feel sympathy for Ira, their son Jessie, and his ex-wife Fiona. Their daughter Daisy is the least developed character--but one cheers for her to escape her mother's influence--which it appears she is on her way to doing.

Maggie is certainly a well-drawn character, but I really was sick of her by the time the book ended. Surprising to me that this is one of Tyler's more decorated books, having won the Pulitzer. I would not recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment