Tyler, Anne 1941–
Tyler, Anne 1941–
Born October 25, 1941, in Minneapolis, MN; daughter of Lloyd Parry (a chemist) and Phyllis Tyler; married Taghi Modarressi (a psychiatrist and writer), May 3, 1963 (died, 1997); children: Tezh, Mitra. Education: Duke University, B.A., 1961; graduate study at Columbia University, 1961-62. Religion: Quaker (Society of Friends).
Home—Baltimore, MD. Agent—Russell and Volkening, Inc., 50 W. 29th St., New York, NY 10001.
Writer. Duke University Library, Durham, NC, Russian bibliographer, 1962-63; McGill University Law Library, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, assistant to librarian, 1964-65.
PEN, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Authors Guild, Phi Beta Kappa, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Mademoiselle award for writing, 1966; Award for Literature, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1977; National Book Critics Circle fiction award nomination, 1980, Janet Heidinger Kafka prize, 1981, and American Book Award nomination in paperback fiction, 1982, all for Morgan's Passing; National Book Critics Circle fiction award nomination, 1982, American Book Award nomination in fiction, PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, and Pulitzer Prize nomination for fiction, all 1983, all for Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant; National Book Critics Circle fiction award and Pulitzer Prize nomination for fiction, both 1985, both for The Accidental Tourist; Pulitzer Prize, 1989, for Breathing Lessons.
If Morning Ever Comes (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1964, reprinted, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Tin Can Tree (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1965, reprinted, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2005.
A Slipping-Down Life, Knopf (New York, NY), 1970, reprinted, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Clock Winder, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972, reprinted, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1996.
Celestial Navigation, Knopf (New York, NY), 1974.
Searching for Caleb (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1976.
Earthly Possessions, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977, reprinted, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1996.
Morgan's Passing (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1980, reprinted, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1996.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2005.
The Accidental Tourist (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1985, reprinted, ImPress (New York, NY) 1999.
Breathing Lessons (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
Anne Tyler: Four Complete Novels (contains Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Morgan's Passing, The Tin Can Tree, and If Morning Ever Comes), Avenel Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Anne Tyler: A New Collection (omnibus volume; contains The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, and Searching for Caleb), Wings Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Saint Maybe (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
Ladder of Years (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.
A Patchwork Planet (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
A Patchwork Planet, Ladder of Years, Saint Maybe: Three Complete Novels, Bright Sky Press (Albany, TX), 2001.
Back When We Were Grownups, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
The Amateur Marriage, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
The Accidental Tourist; & Ladder of Years: Two Novels, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Digging to America, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
(Editor, with Shannon Ravenel, and author of introduction) Best American Short Stories 1983, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1983.
(Editor, with Shannon Ravenel) Best of the South: From Ten Years of "New Stories from the South," Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 1996.
(Editor, with Shannon Ravenel)Best of the South: From the Second Decade of New Stories from the South, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2005.
Tumble Tower (juvenile), illustrated by daughter, Mitra Modarressi, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Robert W. Lenski) Breathing Lessons (screenplay; based on her novel), Republic Pictures, 1994.
Timothy Tugbottom Says No! (juvenile), illustrated by Mitra Modarressi, G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of short stories, poetry, and articles to periodicals, including Saturday Evening Post, New Yorker, Seventeen, Critic, Antioch Review, and Southern Review.
A film adaptation of The Accidental Tourist, starring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt, was released by Warner Brothers, 1988; it was also recorded as a book on tape by Recorded Books, 1991. Back When We Were Grownups was adapted as a film for a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation on CBS, 2004.
Despite her status as a best-selling novelist, Anne Tyler remains a private person who rarely lets public demands interfere with her family life. She shuns most interviews, avoids talk show appearances, and prefers her home in Baltimore, Maryland, to New York City. As the author explained in an e-mail correspondence with Alden Mudge for BookPage online: "I'm too shy for personal appearances, and I've found out that anytime I talk about my writing, I can't do any writing for many weeks afterward." In a body of work that spans over four decades, Tyler has earned what former Detroit News reporter Bruce Cook called "a solid literary reputation … that is based solely on the quality of her books."
Tyler's work has always been critically well received, but reviews of her early novels were generally relegated to the back pages of book review sections. Not until the publication of Celestial Navigation, which captured the attention of novelist Gail Godwin, and Searching for Caleb, which John Updike recommended to his readers, did she gain widespread acclaim. "Now," said Cook, "her books are reviewed in the front of the literary journals and that means she is somebody to reckon with. No longer one of America's best unknown writers, she is now recognized as one of America's best writers. Period."
Born in Minnesota, Tyler lived in various Quaker communes throughout the Midwest and North Carolina. She attended high school in Raleigh and at age sixteen entered Duke University where she fell under the influence of Reynolds Price, then a promising young novelist who had attended her high school. It was Price who encouraged the young Russian major to pursue her writing, and she did—but it remained a secondary pursuit until 1967, the year she and her husband settled in Baltimore. The longer she stayed in Baltimore, the more prominently Baltimore figured in her books, lending them an ambience both citified and southern, and leading Price to proclaim her "the nearest thing we have to an urban Southern novelist." Writing in the New Yorker, Updike compared her to Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty: "Anne Tyler, in her gifts both of dreaming and of realizing, evokes comparison with these writers, and in her tone and subject matter seems deliberately to seek association with the Southern ambiance that, in less cosmopolitan times, they naturally and inevitably breathed. Even their aura of regional isolation is imitated by Miss Tyler as she holds fast, in her imagination and in her person, to a Baltimore with only Southern exits; her characters when they flee, never flee north."
Other reviewers, such as Katha Pollitt, have found Tyler's novels more difficult to classify. "They are Southern in their sure sense of family and place," Pollitt wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "but [they] lack the taste for violence and the Gothic that often characterizes self-consciously Southern literature. They are modern in their fictional techniques, yet utterly unconcerned with the contemporary moment as a subject, so that, with only minor dislocations, her stories could just as well have taken place in the twenties or thirties. The current school of feminist-influenced novels seems to have passed her by completely: her women are strong, often stronger than the men in their lives, but solidly grounded in traditional roles."
The key to Tyler's writing may well lie in the homage she pays to Eudora Welty, her favorite writer and one to whom she has been repeatedly compared. "Reading her taught me there were stories to be written about the mundane life around me," Tyler told Cook. Or as she phrased it to Marguerite Michaels in the New York Times Book Review: "Reading Eudora Welty when I was growing up showed me that very small things are often really larger than the large things." Thomas M. Disch is one of several critics who believes that Tyler's insight into the lives of ordinary people is her special gift. Writing in the Washington Post Book World, he called it an "uncommon accomplishment that she can make such characters interesting and amusing without violating their limitations." Despite their resemblances to people we meet in real life, Tyler's characters are totally fictitious. "None of the people I write about are people I know," she told Michaels. "That would be no fun. And it would be very boring to write about me. Even if I led an exciting life, why live it again on paper? I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances."
Tyler's major theme, according to Mary Ellen Brooks in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "is the obstinate endurance of the human spirit, reflected in every character's acceptance or rejection of his fate and in how that attitude affects his day-to-day life. She uses the family unit as a vehicle for portraying ‘how people manage to endure together—how they grate against each other, adjust, intrude and protect themselves from intrusions, give up, and start all over again in the morning.’" Frequently her characters respond to stress by running away, but their flight, Brooks explained, "proves to be only a temporary and ineffectual means of dealing with reality."
Because the action of her novels is so often circular—ending exactly where it begins—Tyler's fiction has been criticized for lack of development. This was especially true of her early novels where the narratives are straightforward and the pacing slow. In fact, what impressed reviewers most about Tyler's first book, If Morning Ever Comes, was not the story itself but the promise it seemed to hold for future works of fiction. "The trouble with this competently put-together book is that the hero is hardly better defined at the end than he is at the beginning," observed Julian Gloag in the Saturday Review. "Writing about a dull and totally humorless character, Miss Tyler has inevitably produced a totally humorless and mainly dull novel. Anne Tyler is only twenty-two, and in the light of this her refusal to take risks is a bit puzzling. I'd like to see what she could do if she stopped narrowing her own eyes and let herself go. It might be very good."
For her part, Tyler reportedly came to dislike her first book as well as her second, which received similar criticism. The Tin Can Tree was written largely to pass the time while she was looking for a job. As Millicent Bell wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "Life, this young writer seems to be saying, achieves its once-and-for-all shape and then the camera clicks. This view, which brings her characters back on the last page to where they started, does not make for that sense of development which is the true novel's motive force. Because of it, I think, her book remains a sketch, a description, a snapshot. But as such, it still has a certain dry clarity. And the hand that has clicked its shutter has selected a moment of truth."
Perhaps the most salient feature of Tyler's next novel, A Slipping-Down Life—which was misclassified as young adult literature and thus not widely reviewed—is its genesis. In discussing her craft with Michaels, Tyler explained: "Sometimes a book will start with a picture that pops into my mind and I ask myself questions about it and if I put all the answers together, I've got a novel. A real picture would be the old newspaper clipping about the Texas girl who slashed ‘Elvis’ in her forehead." In the novel, this incident is transformed into an episode in the life of Evie Decker, a fictional teenager grappling for her identity. "I believe this is the best thing I've ever done," Evie says of her self-mutilation. "Something out of character. Definite." In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Brooks described the novel as "an accurate description of loneliness, failure to communicate, and regrets over decisions that are irreversible—problems with which any age group can identify. Tyler, who described A Slipping-Down Life as one of her most bizarre works, believes that the novel ‘is flawed, but represents, for me, a certain brave stepping forth.’"
So, too, does Tyler's fifth novel, Celestial Navigation, a book that the author wrote while "fighting the urge to remain in retreat even though the children had started school." Told from the viewpoints of six different characters, Celestial Navigation is far more intricate than Tyler's earlier novels, and most critics considered it a breakthrough. In her New York Times Book Review article, Godwin explained how "Tyler is especially gifted at the art of freeing her characters and then keeping track of them as they move in their unique and often solitary orbits. Her fiction is filled with displaced persons who persist stubbornly in their own destinies. They are [oddballs,] visionaries, lonely souls, but she has a way of transcribing their peculiarities with such loving wholeness that when we examine them we keep finding more and more pieces of ourselves."
In Morgan's Passing Tyler turns from an exploration of the "oddball" as introvert to the "oddball" as extrovert in the creation of Morgan Gower, a forty-two-year-old hardware store manager with a knack for assuming other roles. Simply put, Morgan is an imposter, a man who changes identities every time he changes clothes. Though Morgan's Passing was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and an American Book Award, critics were sharply divided in their assessment of the work. Those who liked it praised Tyler's handling of the characters and her artful mingling of comedy and seriousness. "Though she allows her tale to veer toward farce, Tyler always checks it in time with the tug of an emotion, a twitch of regret," wrote Time's Paul Gray, concluding that Morgan's Passing "is not another novel about a mid-life crisis, it is a buoyant story about a struggle unto death." Tyler acknowledged in a Detroit News interview with Cook that her "big worry in doing the book was that people would be morally offended by [Morgan]." However, critic Marilyn Murray Willison sang her questionable protagonist's praises. "In spite of his inability to restore order to his life, his nicotine-stained hands and teeth, his silly wardrobe, his refusal to accept reality, Morgan emerges from Tyler's book a true hero," Willison wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review.
Several critics, however, found Morgan to be problematic and considered Morgan's Passing a disappointment. "For all its many felicities of observation and incident, Morgan's Passing does not come up to the high standard of Anne Tyler's other recent work. There is a self-indulgence in the portraiture of Morgan himself, whose numerous identity assumptions became for me merely tiresome," Paul Binding wrote in the New Statesman. And New York Review of Books contributing critic James Wolcott dismissed Morgan's Passing as "a book of small compass, pent-up energy … there's no suspense, no surprise. Instead, the book is stuffed with accounts of weddings, crowded dinners, cute squabbles, and symbolic-as-all-get-out puppet shows. Sentence by sentence, the book is engaging, but there's nothing beneath the jokes and tussles to propel the reader through these cluttered lives. It's a book with an idle motor." Writing in the New Yorker, Updike explained his disappointment: "Tyler continues to look close, and to fabricate, out of the cardboard and Magic Markers available to the festive imagination, images of the illusory lives we lead. More than that it would be unkind to ask, did we not imagine, for the scope of the gift displayed, that something of that gift is still being withheld."
With Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, her ninth and, some say, finest novel, Tyler redeemed herself in many critics' eyes. Updike, for instance, maintained that this book achieves "a new level of power and gives us a lucid and delightful yet complex and sombre improvisation on her favorite theme, family life." Writing in the Chicago Tribune Book World, Larry McMurtry echoed these sentiments, writing that Tyler "recognizes and conveys beautifully the alternations of tragedy and farce in family life, and never more beautifully than in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant." Benjamin DeMott was even more impressed. "Funny, heart-hammering, wise, [the novel] edges deep into truth that's simultaneously (and interdependently) psychological, moral and formal—deeper than many living novelists of serious reputation have penetrated, deeper than Miss Tyler herself has gone before. It is a border crossing," DeMott wrote in the New York Times Book Review. McMurtry believed that Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant "amply demonstrates the tenacity of familial involvement," while Los Angeles Times reporter Carolyn See maintained that Tyler shows how a family "is alive with needs of its own; it never relaxes its hold. Even when you are far away (especially when you're far away), it immobilizes you in its grip, which can—in another way—be looked at as a caress."
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant unfolds in a series of self-contained chapters, each, in Updike's words, "rounded like a short story," and each reflecting a different family member's point of view. This narrative technique, as Sarah English noted, "allows [Tyler] to juxtapose past and present and thus to convey the vision—that she has always had—of the past not as a continuum but as layers of still, vivid memories. The wealth of points of view also allows Tyler to show more fully than ever the essential subjectivity of the past…. Every character's vision of the past is different." This portrait of family entanglements was too somber for some critics' tastes, however, including Cynthia Propper Seton's. "What may be the trouble with Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," she wrote in the Washington Post Book World, "is that the … family is not marginal enough, its members are too grave a proposition for a mind so full of mischief as Anne Tyler's. They depressed her." In her Detroit News review, however, Cynthia King maintained that "despite the joyless atmosphere, the author's humor bubbles through." De-Mott concluded: "What one wants to do on finishing such a work as Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is maintain balance, keep things intact for a stretch, stay under the spell as long as possible. The before and after are immaterial; nothing counts except the knowledge, solid and serene, that's all at once breathing in the room. We're speaking obviously, about an extremely beautiful book."
The Accidental Tourist, Tyler's tenth novel, again combines the author's subtle, understated probing into human nature and her eye for comic detail. The title serves both as a reference to the protagonist's occupation and as a metaphor for his life. Macon Leary writes travel guides for people who dislike traveling and who would prefer to stay in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes. The guide books—the series is titled The Accidental Tourist—advise reluctant travelers on how to visit foreign places without experiencing the annoyances and jarring peculiarities that each new city offers. Thus, Macon counsels his readers on where they can find American-style hamburgers in Amsterdam, for instance, or on the type of reading material to carry on the plane so as to ward off chatty passengers. As with her previous novels, reviewers praised the gently ironic humor and sympathetic, likable characters that Tyler created in The Accidental Tourist. Richard Eder, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, noted that the character of Macon Leary "is an oddity of the first water, and yet we grow so close to him that there is not the slightest warp in the lucid, touching and very funny story of an inhibited man moving out into life." Other critics observed that Tyler fuses the mix of tragedy and comedy that appears in most of her previous books. McMurtry, writing in the New York Times Book Review about "the mingling of misery and contentment in the daily lives of her families" that Tyler constructs, commented that "these themes, some of which she has been sifting for more than twenty years, cohere with high definition in the muted … personality of Macon Leary." Some reviewers criticized Tyler for her tendency to draw sympathetic characters and to infuse humor into so many of her scenes. Chicago Tribune Book World critic John Blades wondered whether "Tyler, with her sedative resolutions to life's most grievous and perplexing problems, can be taken seriously as a writer." Most reviewers, though, praised the book and its author. Eder noted, "I don't know if there is a better American writer going."
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons, Tyler examines the themes of marriage, love, and regret. The story concerns Maggie and Ira Moran, married for twenty-eight years, and a journey they make to the funeral of an old friend. During the trip they both reflect on their years together—some happy, some sad. Maggie is gregarious and curious, while Ira is practical and withdrawn. Both at times regret their decision to marry, but they also recognize the strength of the bond between them. Critics again remarked on Tyler's ability to evoke sympathy for her characters and her talent for constructing humorous scenes. Eder, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, generally summed up critical reaction by noting that "there are moments when the struggle among Maggie, Ira, and the melancholy of time passing forms a fiery triangle more powerful and moving … than anything she has done."
"Tyler's twelfth novel, Saint Maybe," wrote Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Caren J. Town, "addresses most directly another important Tyler concern: religion." The protagonist of Saint Maybe is Ian Bedloe, a well-adjusted teenager. Ian's family life changes drastically when his older brother, Danny, marries a divorcee named Lucy, who has two children of her own. Danny commits suicide after the birth of his daughter, Daphne, and Lucy dies of an overdose of sleeping pills soon after. Ian is overcome with guilt; he seeks guidance from a fundamentalist sect known as the Church of the Second Chance, led by the charismatic Brother Emmett. Emmett charges Ian to care for his brother's children as a penance for his connection with Danny's death. "Tyler has a well-known skepticism about the premise of most religions," declared Town: "‘It's not that I have anything against ministers,’ she … [said] in a discussion about Earthly Possessions, ‘but that I'm particularly concerned with how much right anyone has to change someone, and ministers are people who feel they have that right.’" As Brad Leithauser remarked in the New York Review of Books, "Saint Maybe winds up being something of a curious creation: a secular tale of holy redemption."
Tyler uses her characters in Saint Maybe to examine the role of modern American family life. "Is the family an anchor in the storm?" asked Marilyn Gardner of the Christian Science Monitor. "Or is it a shackle? Do duty and devotion hold together the members who make up a family as well as the family itself? Or do families become, not support systems, but burdens of guilt, leading to damaging sacrifices of personal freedom?" New York Times Book Review contributor Jay Parini wrote of the novel: "In many ways it is Anne Tyler's most sophisticated work, a realistic chronicle that celebrates family life without erasing the pain and boredom that families almost necessarily inflict upon their members."
Tyler moves in a different direction with Tumble Tower—which features illustrations by her daughter, Mitra Modarressi—and creates "a kid-pleasing story about Princess Molly the Messy and her royal family of neatnicks," according to Christian Science Monitor contributor Karen Williams. Unlike her obsessed parents and siblings, including Prince Thomas the Tidy, Molly lives a comfortably unkempt life. "The moral of Tyler's tale," declared Suzanne Curley in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "is that a princess unfazed by half-eaten candy bars left under her chair cushions, kittens nesting among fluffy slippers on the closet floor or a bed ‘all lumpy and knobby with half-finished books’ probably has her priorities straight, and may have much to teach about the way clutter often goes hand-in-hand with coziness."
In Ladder of Years, stated New York Times Book Review contributor Cathleen Schine, "the story that appears to unfold of its own accord is a fairy tale of sorts, a fairy tale with echoes of both the tragedy of King Lear and the absurdity of the modern romance novel." Suzanne L. MacLachlan explained in the Christian Science Monitor that the novel "is written from the viewpoint of a woman approaching middle age who feels she is losing her family." One day Delia Grinstead simply walks out on her obnoxious husband and her uncaring teenaged children and starts a new life in a Maryland town some miles away. She becomes self-supporting, taking a job as a lawyer's secretary. "Just as she subverts the domestic with fantasy—her situations are earthbound until you notice that they are gliding along two inches above the earth—she subverts fantasy with the domestic," explained a Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor. Delia's old patterns of behavior begin to reassert themselves and she returns home for her oldest daughter's wedding. "Her eventual journey back to her home and family are, in many ways," MacLachlan stated, "the universal search for self. She finds, in the end, that the people she has left behind have traveled further than she." Declared New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in his review of Ladder of Years: "As always, Ms. Tyler writes with a clarity that makes the commonplace seem fresh and the pathetic touching."
The hero of A Patchwork Planet is a likeable ne'er-do-well. As a teenager, Barnaby Gaitlin disappointed his rich Baltimore parents by breaking into other people's houses, not so much as a thief but to go through family mementos and pry into others' lives. Unlike most of Tyler's fiction, A Patchwork Planet is written in the first person; Barnaby tells his own story. "One of Tyler's major strengths," observed Jonelle Bonta in Metroactive Books, "has always been her uncanny ability to depict children, describing their simplistic reactions to life's complex situations with unsentimental understanding. In A Patchwork Planet, a similar rich talent is revealed: an empathy with the elderly." Linda Simon, reviewing the novel for the World and I, commented that by the end of A Patchwork Planet "nothing changes in Barnaby except his own self-perception. And yet, Tyler shows us, this change in perception may allow us to see the world as a bit less haphazard and incoherent, and to celebrate our place, however modest, on our own makeshift patch of the planet." Gill Hornby, writing for the Literary Review online, noted that "Barnaby's life is so engrossing, there is such a clatter of subplots—family squabbles, car purchases, domestic wrangles—that it is only when you get to the last, perfect cadence that you realize how carefully, minutely plotted a novel this is … probably Tyler's finest novel yet."
Reviewing Back When We Were Grownups, a Kirkus Reviews critic described the book as "packed with life in all its humdrum complexity—and funny, so funny, the kind that compels reading aloud." As Beth Kephart noted in Book, "in her deeply moving and perfectly syncopated new novel … Tyler presents a stunning portrait of fifty-three-year-old Rebecca Davitch, a ‘wide and soft and dimpled’ woman whose style of dress edges ‘dangerously close to Bag Lady,’ whose hair naturally assumes a ‘pup tent’ shape and whose compulsive goodness has become the source … of much eloquent soul-searching." L. Gregory Jones, reviewing for the Christian Century, found similarities between Rebecca and the character of Delia Grinstead in Ladder of Years. According to Jones, the two women "present contrasting ways of trying to escape their present lives. One woman concludes that she has been an impostor in her own life, and so needs to assume a different character; the other wants to assume a different character by becoming an impostor." Rebecca's life is revealed to the reader in flashbacks as she reminisces and reflects on what has brought her to this point. Despite a brief and tentative dalliance with the college sweetheart to whom she was once engaged, Rebecca comes to realize while watching old family movies that she has enjoyed her life immensely and ended up right where she belongs. In a review critical of Back When We Were Grownups, Michiko Kakutani noted in the New York Times that Tyler's "fiction has always hovered perilously close to the line between heartfelt emotion and cloying sentimentality," and went on to conclude: "In showing how family traits are passed down generation to generation, in showing how shared rituals, celebrations and crises create a communal history, she [Tyler] demonstrates the talents that galvanized so many of her earlier books and that help redeem this very flawed novel." Linnea Lannon, writing in People, expressed an opinion more in accordance with that of other reviewers: "A wonderful life makes for a wonderful novel."
In his BookPage review, Mudge wrote: "What Tyler herself has always been particularly good at is depicting the fullness of life lived on a human scale. Her characters are not—and do not aspire to become—members of the glitterati or the literati…. Their dramas are the commonplace dramas of family and community life. Tyler's great art has been to illuminate her characters' lives with wry wit and insight, not to exalt them to some larger, brighter stage." Such talents are fully realized in The Amateur Marriage, which Mudge believed, "quite simply, … ranks among Tyler's best to date." The Amateur Marriage is the story of Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay, whose accidental meeting in Baltimore just after the attack on Pearl Harbor that pulled the United States into World War II culminates in a hasty—and ultimately unhappy—marriage. Tyler traces their lives as they raise their family, into old age, and through the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States. As Tyler told Mudge, The Amateur Marriage "grew out of the reflection that of all the opportunities to show differences in character, surely an unhappy marriage must be the richest. I didn't want a good-person-bad-person marriage, but a marriage in which solely the two styles of character provide the friction."
Reviewing The Amateur Marriage for Bookreporter. com, Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum called it one of Tyler's best works. "The old cliché that ‘time heals all wounds’ lurks beneath the surface of The Amateur Marriage, but Tyler doesn't really dig down to it in any obvious ways. Rather, as in real life, her fictional world continues to turn, and one at a time each character moves on with his/her wounds, bound at some time to heal. As in all of her works, Tyler has woven truisms and object lessons that will make readers nod knowingly…. Human nature is what fascinates Anne Tyler and she plays with it as if it were modeling clay. In her hands she fashions people, places, events, atmospheres, pain and joy with a smooth narrative style that is punctuated with life lessons for anyone who chooses to see them. Fans of Tyler will not be disappointed in The Amateur Marriage, and those new to her work will be motivated to explore her other novels. Her many talents continue to blossom with age, and her touch remains as gentle as it is firm."
Digging to America touches on several themes found in Tyler's other novels. "Its sweep, however, is broader than that of many of her previous books and focuses on identity, belonging and what it is to be American," wrote a reviewer for the Economist. The novel centers around two middle-class couples, with little in common, who meet by chance at the Baltimore airport when their adopted Korean daughters arrive on the same flight from Asia. Jin-Ho goes to Bitsy and Brad Donaldson, an older couple who seem to personify stereotypical American suburbanites, while the other infant, Sooki, goes to a much younger Iranian-American couple, Sami and Ziba Yazdan. Not long after the couples' first meeting, Bitsy invites the Yazdans to an "arrival party," which later becomes an annual tradition, and which Tyler uses as a tool to "mark the passage of an intense, if sometimes difficult, friendship," according to a reviewer for the Economist. When Bitsy's recently widowed father, Dave, falls in love with Sami's mother, Maryam, it is an act considered by a Publishers Weekly critic as the "narrative and emotional heart of the touching, humorous story." Now Maryam must redefine for herself what it means to be part of a culture and a country.
Digging to America marks the first of Tyler's novels to feature foreign-born characters. (Her husband, now deceased, was born in Iran.) Tyler "proves as adept at getting into Iranian heads as American ones…. She deftly depicts the multilayered world of Iranian immigrants, where relationships hinge on, among other things, when one came to America and what one did in the old country. The trip through the various cultural accoutrements and thought processes is an engaging one," remarked Susie Currie in a review of the book for the Weekly Standard. Library Journal critic Starr E. Smith praised the novel as "a touching, well-crafted tale of friendship, families, and what it means to be an American."
When asked by an interviewer for USINFO where she got the idea for Digging to America, Tyler responded: "The book's original inspiration was a memory from real life: a chance glimpse of a family of strangers meeting their adopted baby for the first time at the Baltimore airport. It was only later, when I was actually outlining the plot, that I realized the book was also about the immigrant experience."
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Carol Shields stated that Tyler "has always been a warmly compassionate recorder of middle-class America, yet one who is wide open to the riffs, the reverberations, the trajectories of the dislocated." According to Alice McDermott, writing in the Washington Post: "Surprise is not the point in an Anne Tyler novel, nor is plot, or even connectedness. The charm of an Anne Tyler novel lies in the clarity of her prose and the wisdom of her observations, in her fine ear for the ‘clamor’ of family. While the world of each of her novels resembles nothing so much as the world of all her other novels, her stories remain stubbornly like life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, winter, 1999, Gerda Oldham, review of A Patchwork Planet, p. 112.
Atlantic Monthly, July 1, 2006, review of Digging to America, p. 130.
Book, May, 2001, Beth Kephart, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. 63.
Booklist, November 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Timothy Tugbottom Says No!, p. 54; February 15, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Digging to America, p. 7.
Chicago Tribune Book World, March 21, 1982, Larry McMurtry, review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant; July 20, 1986, John Blades, review of The Accidental Tourist.
Christian Century, July 4, 2001, L. Gregory Jones, "Living into Our Histories," p. 29; December 12, 2006, review of Digging to America, p. 24.
Christian Science Monitor, September 25, 1991, Marilyn Gardner, review of Saint Maybe, p. 13; December 17, 1993, Karen Williams, review of Tumble Tower, p. 12; May 18, 1995, Suzanne L. MacLachlan, review of Ladder of Years, p. 13; May 3, 2001, Ron Charles, "Grandma Wonders If It's Ever Too Late," p. 21.
Detroit News, April 6, 1980, Bruce Cook, review of Morgan's Passing; April 18, 1982, Cynthia King, review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.
Economist, June 17, 2006, "Asymmetric Conversions," p. 90.
Financial Times, May 5, 2007, Michael Thompson-Noel, review of Digging to America, p. 41.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1995, review of Ladder of Years, p. 180; March 15, 2001, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. 361; August 1, 2005, review of Timothy Tugbottom Says No!, p. 859; March 1, 2006, review of Digging to America, p. 207.
Library Journal, April 1, 2006, Starr E. Smith, review of Digging to America, p. 87.
Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1982, Carolyn See, review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant; September 14, 1983, "The Best American Short Stories 1983," p. 16.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 30, 1980, Marilyn Murray Willison, review of Morgan's Passing; September 15, 1985, Richard Eder, review of The Accidental Tourist, p. 3; September 11, 1988, Richard Eder, review of Breathing Lessons, p. 3; September 5, 1993, Suzanne Curley, review of Tumble Tower, p. 9; May 7, 1995, review of Ladder of Years, p. 3.
National Catholic Reporter, May 24, 1996, "Anne Tyler: Family Novelist with a Twist," p. 25.
New Statesman, December 5, 1980, Paul Binding, review of Morgan's Passing.
New Yorker, June 6, 1977, review of Earthly Possessions, p. 86; June 23, 1980, John Updike, review of Morgan's Passing, p. 95; April 5, 1982, John Updike, review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, p. 193; May 8, 1995, Tom Shone, review of Ladder of Years, pp. 89-90.
New York Review of Books, April 3, 1980, James Wolcott, review of Morgan's Passing, p. 34; January 16, 1992, Brad Leithauser, review of Saint Maybe, pp. 53-55.
New York Times, May 3, 1977, review of Earthly Possessions, p. 45; March 17, 1980, John Leonard, review of Morgan's Passing, p. C17; March 22, 1982, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, p. 21; September 3, 1988, Michiko Kakutani, review of Breathing Lessons, p. 13; April 27, 1995, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Ladder of Years, p. B2; May 18, 2001, Michiko Kakutani, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. B3; February 16, 2004, "The Accidental Literary Star," p. 1.
New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1965, Millicent Bell, review of The Tin Can Tree, p. 77; March 15, 1970, Marguerite Michaels, review of A Slipping-Down Life, p. 44; May 21, 1972, review of The Clock Winder, p. 31; April 28, 1974, Gail Godwin, review of Celestial Navigation, p. 34; January 3, 1975, Katha Pollitt, review of Searching for Caleb, p. 22; May 8, 1977, Anatole Broyard, review of Earthly Possessions, p. 12; March 14, 1982, Benjamin DeMott, review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, p. 1; September 8, 1985, Larry McMurtry, review of The Accidental Tourist, p. 1; August 25, 1991, Jay Parini, review of Saint Maybe, pp. 1, 26; May 7, 1995, Cathleen Schine, review of Ladder of Years, p. 12; April 19, 1998, Carol Shields, review of A Patchwork Planet, p. 12; May 20, 2001, John Leonard, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. 14.
People, May 21, 2001, Linnea Lannon, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. 51.
Publishers Weekly, February 27, 2006, review of Digging to America, p. 30.
Saturday Review, December 26, 1964, Julian Gloag, review of If Morning Ever Comes; November 20, 1965, review of The Tin Can Tree, p. 50; June 17, 1972, review of The Clock Winder, p. 77; March 6, 1976, review of Searching for Caleb, p. 28; September 4, 1976; March 15, 1980, Eva Hoffman, review of Morgan's Passing, p. 38.
School Library Journal, December, 1991, Katherine Fitch, review of Saint Maybe, pp. 149-50; October 2005, Linda L. Walkins, review of Timothy Tugbottom Says No!, p. 131; July 2006, Kim Dare, review of Digging to America, p. 133.
Time, May 9, 1977, review of Earthly Possessions, p. 86; March 17, 1980, Paul Gray, review of Morgan's Passing, p. 91; April 5, 1982, R.Z. Shephard, review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, p. 77; September 16, 1985, R.Z. Sheppard, review of The Accidental Tourist, p. 78.
Times Literary Supplement, July 15, 1965, review of If Morning Ever Comes, p. 593; May 23, 1975, review of Celestial Navigation, p. 577; December 9, 1977, review of Earthly Possessions, p. 1456; October 31, 1980, review of Morgan's Passing, p. 1221; October 29, 1982, review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, p. 1188; October 4, 1985, review of The Accidental Tourist, p. 1096; January 20, 1989, review of Breathing Lessons, p. 57.
USA Today, November 18, 2004, "Look for Anne Tyler in the Back of Books," p. 5.
Washington Post, May 20, 2001, Alice McDermott, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. T3.
Washington Post Book World, March 16, 1980, Thomas M. Disch, review of Morgan's Passing, p. 5; April 4, 1982, review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, p. 7; September 4, 1988, review of Breathing Lessons, p. 1.
Weekly Standard, July 24, 2006, "Accidental Novel; the Anne Tyler Formula Is Showing Its Age."
World and I, August, 1998, Linda Simon, review of A Patchwork Planet, p. 274.
World Literature Today, March 1, 2007, W.M. Hagen, review of Digging to America, p. 64.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (April 25, 2004), Allen Mudge, "Mismatched Mates, Anne Tyler Explores the Dramas of Everyday Family Life" (interview).
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (April 25, 2004), Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum, review of The Amateur Marriage.
Literary Review Online,http://www.litrev.dircon.co.uk/ (August 5, 2001), Gill Hornby, "A Man You Can Trust."
Metroactive Books Online,http://www.metroactive.com/ (June 25, 1998), Jonelle Bonta, "Screwball."
USINFO,http://usinfo.state.gov/ (August 7, 2007), interview with Tyler.