Tyler, Anne 1941-
TYLER, Anne 1941-
Born October 25, 1941, in Minneapolis, MN; daughter of Lloyd Parry (a chemist) and Phyllis (Mahon) 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.
Home—222 Tunbridge Rd., Baltimore, MD 21212. Agent—Russell and Volkening, Inc., 50 West 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.
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, 1988, for Breathing Lessons.
If Morning Ever Comes, Knopf (New York, NY), 1964.
The Tin Can Tree, Knopf (New York, NY), 1965, reprinted, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1996.
A Slipping-Down Life, Knopf (New York, NY), 1970.
The Clock Winder, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972.
Celestial Navigation, Knopf (New York, NY), 1974.
Searching for Caleb, Knopf (New York, NY), 1976.
Earthly Possessions, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977, reprinted, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1996.
Morgan's Passing, 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.
(Editor, with Shannon Ravenel, and author of introduction) Best American Short Stories 1983, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1983.
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.
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.
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.
The Amateur Marriage, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of short stories, poetry, and articles to many 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.
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, when she captured the attention of novelist Gail Godwin, and Searching for Caleb, when John Updike recommended her to 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 South before settling in the mountains of North Carolina for five years. She attended high school in Raleigh and at 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.
In an interview with Bruce Cook published in the Saturday Review, Tyler described Baltimore as "wonderful territory for a writer—so many different things to poke around in." And the longer she stayed there, the more prominently Baltimore figured in her books, lending them an ambiance 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, John 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, 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. Katha Pollitt found the work "extraordinarily moving and beautiful," while Doris Grumbach praised Tyler's "ability to enmesh the reader in what is a simple, uneventful story a notable achievement." In her New York Times Book Review article, Gail 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 have been 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 Bruce 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, John 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." DeMott 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 of 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.'" Brad Leithauser in the New York Review of Books remarked, "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, "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 moved in a different direction with her next book, 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 Tyler's 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 in the Christian Science Monitor explained 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 Tyler's novel A Patchwork Planet is an 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 Blanket "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 Tyler's 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." Beth Kephart of Book noted: "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 of the Christian Century found similarities between Rebecca and the character of Delia Grinstead in Tyler's 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 of the New York Times noted 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 of People expressed an opinion more in accordance with that of other reviewers: "A wonderful life makes for a wonderful novel."
In his BookPage article, 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 concluded, "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."
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 of 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.
Book, Beth Kephart, May, 2001, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. 63.
Chicago Tribune Book World, March 23, 1980; March 21, 1982; July 20, 1986.
Christian Century, July 4, 2001, L. Gregory Jones, "Living into Our Histories," p. 29.
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; April 18, 1982.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1995, p. 180; March 15, 2001, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. 361.
Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1982; September 14, 1983.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 30, 1980; September 15, 1985; September 11, 1988; September 5, 1993, p. 9; May 7, 1995, p. 3.
New Statesman, April 4, 1975; December 5, 1980, Paul Binding, review of Morgan's Passing.
New Yorker, March 29, 1976; June 6, 1977; 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; 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.
New York Times Book Review, November 22, 1964; November 21, 1965; March 15, 1970; May 21, 1972; April 28, 1974; January 18, 1976; May 8, 1977; 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.
Saturday Review, December 26, 1964; November 20, 1965; June 17, 1972; March 6, 1976; 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. 149-150.
Time, May 9, 1977; March 17, 1980; 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; May 23, 1975; December 9, 1977; October 31, 1980; October 29, 1982; October 4, 1985; January 20, 1989.
Washington Post, May 20, 2001, Alice McDermott, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. T03.
Washington Post Book World, March 16, 1980; April 4, 1982; September 4, 1988.
World and I, August, 1998, Linda Simon, review of A Patchwork Planet, p. 274.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (April 25, 2004), Allen Mudge, "Mismatched Mates, Anne Tyler Explores the Dramas of Everyday Family Life" (interview).
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."