Born October 25, 1941, in Minneapolis, MN; daughter of Lloyd Parry (a chemist) and Phyllis (a social worker; maiden name, Mahon) Tyler; married Taghi Mohammed Modarressi (a psychiatrist and writer), May 3, 1963 (died, 1997); children: Tezh, Mitra (daughters). Education: Duke University, B.A., 1961; graduate study at Columbia University, 1961-62. Religion: Society of Friends (Quaker).
Home—222 Tunbridge Rd., Baltimore, MD 21212.
Agent—Russell & Volkening, 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 the librarian, 1964-65.
PEN, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Phi Beta Kappa.
Mademoiselle award for writing, 1966; Award for Literature, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1977; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination in fiction, 1980, Janet Heidinger Kafka prize, 1981, and American Book Award nomination in paperback fiction, 1982, all for Morgan's Passing; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination in fiction, 1982, and American Book Award nomination in fiction, PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, and Pulitzer Prize nomination in fiction, all 1983, all for Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant; National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, and Pulitzer Prize nomination for fiction, both 1985, both for The Accidental Tourist; Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and National Book Award nomination for fiction, both 1989, both for Breathing Lessons.
If Morning Ever Comes, Knopf (New York, NY), 1964.
The Tin Can Tree, Knopf (New York, NY), 1965.
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.
Morgan's Passing, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Knopf (New York, NY), 1982.
(Editor with Shannon Ravenel, and author of introduction) Best American Short Stories 1983, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1983.
The Accidental Tourist, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985, reprinted, ImPress (Pleasantville, NY, 1999.
Breathing Lessons (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
Anne Tyler: Four Complete Novels (omnibus volume; 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, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
Tumble Tower (children's book), 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, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor with Shannon Ravenel) Best of the South:From Ten Years of New Stories from the South, Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 1996.
A Patchwork Planet, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Back When We Were Grownups, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
A Patchwork Planet; Ladder of Years; Saint Maybe: ThreeComplete Novels, Bright Sky Press (Albany, TX), 2001.
The Amateur Marriage, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Saturday Evening Post, New Yorker, Seventeen, Critic, Harper's, Reporter, McCalls, Mademoiselle, Antioch Review, and Southern Review.
The Accidental Tourist was released as a film by Warner Brothers in 1988, starring William Hurt and Geena Davis; Earthly Possessions was adapted as a television film by Home Box Office in 1999, starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff; A Slipping-down Life was adapted for film in 2004. The Clock Winder, Morgan's Passing, Breathing Lessons, and Saint Maybe were adapted as audiobooks.
"I think of my work as a whole. And really what it seems to me I'm doing is populating a town," American novelist Anne Tyler told Marguerite Michaels in a rare interview for the New York Times Book Review. Praised as one of the most adept chroniclers of contemporary family life, the reclusive, Pulitzer Prize-winning Tyler was praised by New Yorker contributor John Updike, who noted that in such highly acclaimed novels as The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, and A Patchwork Planet, "Tyler's details pull from our minds recognition of our lives." Discussing the author's thirteenth novel, Ladder of Years, in Commonweal, Gene H. Bell-Villada praised Tyler as "our foremost poet of family life. Her eye and ear for the intimate textures of day-to-day parenthood, aunthood, mother-in-lawhood, and every conceivable kinship tie remain as sharp and reliable as ever."
Tyler's protagonists are the sort of people one might meet in everyday life; there are no villains to add a jarring note to her carefully orchestrated middleclass scenarios. The characters in her novels and short stories grapple with mundane matters: the stuff of childhood, marriage, parenthood, career, and religion. Caren J. Town noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that "Tyler's popularity rests in part on the apparent ordinariness of her subjects: the power of family, the struggle for personal growth, the accumulation of possessions, and the influence of religion. Yet this ordinariness is not simplicity: she treats each common situation with wry humor and fills each plot with eccentric characters and unconventional developments."
Tyler's body of work has garnered increased respect and recognition from critics over the years. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Breathing Lessons, and The Accidental Tourist have all received a number of literary awards, and The Accidental Tourist was adapted into a critically acclaimed film. As New York Times Book Review contributor Edward Hoagland observed, Tyler is "blessedly prolific and graced with an effortless-seeming talent at describing whole rafts of intricately individualized people." Despite her ever-increasing popularity, though, Tyler has resolutely retained her privacy; she has repeatedly turned down offers to teach, give lectures, or appear on television, and has consented to interviews only occasionally. As the writer indicated in a rare talk with Sarah English for the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, "my main reason for doing little in public is that it's not what I'm good at—but yes, it also protects my working time. As I get older, I've learned to say 'no' more and more—and I get happier and happier."
Settling in the South
Tyler was born on October 25, 1941, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her father, a chemist, and her mother, a social worker, relocated the family several times during Tyler 's childhood. Tyler 's parents were Quakers, a religious faith known for its pacifism. The family, which also included three younger boys, lived in various Quaker communes throughout the Midwest and South before settling in North Carolina for most of her teenage years. Tyler was an avid reader—her favorite book was Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House—and was writing her own stories by age seven. "There was nothing very unusual about my family life," Tyler recalled in her interview with English, "but I did spend much of my older childhood and adolescence as a semi-outsider—a Northerner, commune-reared, looking wistfully at large Southern families around me." She grew accustomed to life in the South, however, and the region serves as the setting for nearly all of her fiction.
At the age of sixteen Tyler began attending classes at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. While at Duke she was encouraged to develop her writing ability by Reynolds Price, a novelist who had attended the same high school as Tyler, and her first published story, "Laura," appeared in Duke's literary magazine. After receiving a B.A. from Duke in 1961—and twice winning the school's Anne Flexner creative writing award—Tyler attended Columbia University, where she served as the school's Russian bibliographer. A year later she married Taghi Mohammed Modarressi, an Iranian-born child psychiatrist and novelist.
Tyler's writing career began modestly. She turned out a wave of short stories, but few of them were published. Her first novel-length effort likewise met with rejection at every publishing house she tried. She persevered, however, and her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes, was published in 1964. As time has passed she has come to disown this early work, noting that it was written during the first six months of her marriage, a period during which she was unemployed. Still, this tale of a young man's struggle to determine his obligations to his family after the death of his father received complimentary reviews from a number of critics. New York Times Book Review contributor Rollene W. Saal called the novel a "subtle and surprisingly mature story about the lack of communication between human beings, of a man's essential isolation from the world—and especially and more poignantly from his own family." Even reviewers who were critical of the novel's character development and plot movement qualified their judgments by noting that it was a promising effort from the twenty-two-year-old author. Similar criticisms were leveled at Tyler's second novel, The Tin Can Tree, another work she has since dismissed.
By the time her third novel, A Slipping-down Life, was published in 1970, Tyler's family had grown to include two infant girls. The book tells the story of a lonely, overweight girl named Evie and her efforts to establish an identity for herself. The action in the novel is triggered by Evie's decision to carve the name of a rock singer onto her forehead with scissors. In a Dictionary of Literary Biography essay, Mary Ellen Brooks commented that A Slipping-down Life "is an accurate depiction of loneliness, failure to communicate, and regrets over decisions that are irreversible—problems with which any age group can identify."
Balancing Work and Family
Not surprisingly, the addition of two infants to the Tyler family's Baltimore household had an impact on Tyler's writing efforts, which were gaining increased attention with each new novel. Speaking of her daughters, Tyler admitted in her interview with English that "their infancy did interrupt my work for a few years, or made me shift my working time to evening, which is the same as interrupting it since I can't think past 3 p.m. Generally, I cope[d] with interruptions like school vacations, mono, etc., by giving in gracefully. . . [and made] no attempt to work under such conditions."
Reviews of Tyler's fourth novel, The Clock Winder, were generally favorable, and she followed this success with Celestial Navigation in 1974. Celestial Navigation studies the life of Jeremy, an artist with an overwhelming fear of open spaces. This fear has relegated him to his studio, and the death of his mother in the novel's opening pages serves to further widen the gulf between Jeremy and the outside world. As the story unfolds he manages to establish a relationship with a boarder named Mary, who, unlike Jeremy, is cheerful and outgoing. They eventually marry, but Mary's skill at shielding Jeremy from his fears only makes him withdraw further into his shell. "In the end," Brooks remarked, "each returns to his separate life, each still dominated by his innate driving characteristic. Jeremy returns to his life as a reclusive artist in a crumbling dark house while Mary prepares for winter in a rundown shack, knowing that another man will eventually provide for her and her children when her resources run out." Critics cited The Clock Winder as Tyler's finest to date, pointing to the book's superior plot and character development and skillful use of multiple viewpoints. In her New York Times Book Review assessment, contributor Gail Godwin commented that Tyler's characters 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."
By the mid-1970s a critical consensus found Tyler's style unique in many ways. New York Times Book Review contributor Katha Pollitt explained that it is often difficult to classify Tyler's novels: "They are Southern in their sure sense of family and place but lack the taste for violence and the Gothic that often characterizes self-consciously Southern literature. . . . 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." Reviewers such as Pollitt also noted that while Tyler's novels are usually placed in contemporary settings, she rarely comments on contemporary issues or their impact on her characters. As a result, the time frame is often of no consequence to the primary action in the story. Tyler's established talent for portraying characters that are readily recognizable by readers was also touted as a primary reason for her critical success and popularity. In her novels, as in real life, "characters are both burdened with and supported by their families; for Tyler, families are something one simultaneously wants to escape and to create," wrote Town.
Attracts Attention of Awards Juries
In 1977's Earthly Possessions, which was adapted as a 1999 television film starring Susan Sarandon, Tyler tells the story of a woman who is kidnapped during a bungled bank robbery and forced to accompany the robber on his flight from Maryland to Florida. During the journey the woman looks back on her life and takes stock. Morgan's Passing, published three years later, finds Tyler's focus on a family man who assumes a variety of different identities, ranging from street priest to French immigrant. While Morgan's Passing was greeted with a mixed although generally favorable response from reviewers, the novel was honored with both a National Book Critics Circle fiction award nomination and an American Book Award paperback fiction nomination.
Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was also nominated for several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it received the 1983 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is one of Tyler's grimmer accounts of family relationships. Three now-grown children visit their mother, an embittered and selfish woman who now rests on her deathbed. As the novel unfolds, the memories and feelings of all four regarding their family are laid bare and, as Town remarked, "a novel that in other hands could have become a horrific chronicle of the violent legacy neglectful and cruel parents hand down to their children becomes instead a meditation on the ways people can produce sustaining families instead of reproducing destructive ones." Benjamin DeMott, writing in the New York Times Book Review, said that Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant goes "deeper than many living novelists of serious reputation have penetrated, deeper than Miss Tyler herself has gone before. It is a border crossing."
Acclaim for The Accidental Tourist
On the heels of the successful Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Tyler produced yet another novel that received an enthusiastic critical reception. The Accidental Tourist, published in 1985, examines the life of Macon Leary, a travel writer who puts together guidebooks for reluctant travelers who must make trips away from home for business or personal reasons. Macon is a cautious, methodical man who separated from his wife after the couple's twelve-year-old son was murdered and now lives with his sister and two brothers. They also view interaction with the outside world with reluctance. Only after becoming involved with Muriel, an animated, vivacious animal trainer, does Macon begin to emerge from his "accidental tourist cocoon," as Tracy Chevalier wrote in Contemporary Novelists.
Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Richard Eder praised Tyler's development of sympathetic characters in The Accidental Tourist, commenting that Macon is a very odd man, "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." Chicago Tribune Book World contributor John Blades cast a dissenting opinion, questioning whether the book's author, "with her sedative resolutions to life's most grievous and perplexing problems, can be taken seriously as a writer." Most reviewers, though, registered enthusiastic approval for the book, and it was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1985. In 1988 a film version of The Accidental Tourist was released; it featured the talents of William Hurt, Geena Davis, and Kathleen Turner.
Tyler's Breathing Lessons was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1989. Its main characters are Ira and Maggie Moran, a middle-aged couple who continue to love each other despite their very different personalities. The novel begins as the Morans embark on a trip to the funeral of a high school friend, then "moves effortlessly between the present trip to the funeral, the past of Maggie's courtship and marriage to Ira, the recent past of the breakup of her son's marriage, and the future of his former wife and Maggie's grandchild as Maggie tries to combine them all into some meaningful whole," according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Town.
Wallace Stegner, writing in the Washington Post Book World, remarked that "Maggie Moran, who dominates the new novel, is a purely Anne Tyler creation. . . . Even while we wonder how her husband Ira has put up with Maggie for twenty-eight years, we understand why the marriage has lasted, and will. Maggie's deviousness, underlain by emotional purposes as inexorable as heat-seeking missiles, is a form of innocence." Several reviewers remarked on Tyler's skill in making her ordinary characters both familiar and interesting, with humor but not condescension. Chicago's Tribune Books contributor Hilma Wolitzer commented that BreathingLessons serves as "Tyler's gentlest and most charming novel and a paean to what is fast becoming a phenomenon—lasting marriage. . . . This is an honest and lovely book."
Continues to Mine Average Lives
In Tyler's twelfth novel, Saint Maybe, she is concerned with the subject of religion. "All I knew at the start was that I wondered what it must feel like to be a born-again Christian, since that is a kind of life very different from mine," she told Patricia Rowe Willrich in an Virginia Quarterly interview. The story centers on the Bedlows, a middle-class American family leading a prosperous existence. Seventeen-year-old Ian Bedlow's life is turned upside-down, however, after his older brother Danny arrives at the house with his opportunistic fiancée Lucy and Lucy's children from an earlier marriage. As time passes, Ian comes to suspect that the couple's newborn child, Daphne, may not be his brother's progeny. His decision to reveal his suspicions ultimately triggers the deaths of Danny and Lucy, and haunts Ian for many years after. Ian is similar to many of Tyler's other characters, according to Town, for they "hope, early or later in life, to escape from the burdens and responsibilities of their families, but they find they are not trapped, and they learn that they do not really want to escape."
In Ladder of Years Tyler introduces readers to Delia Grinstead, a woman on the cusp of middle age who views herself as a "sad, tired, anxious forty-year-old woman who hadn't had a champagne brunch in decades." Delia impulsively leaves her self-absorbed family and sets out to create a new life for herself in a strange community. Delia enjoys some triumphs but, as Times Literary Supplement contributor Joyce Carol Oates observed, "though the reader is solidly on Delia's side, hoping that so sweet-natured, decent and un-appreciated a woman can establish a new, it soon becomes clear that Delia isn't up to it. She lacks the inner resources, professional training and spirit to make the transition." While Oates called Ladder of Years a "poignant work," she added that it paints "a bleak vision somewhat at odds with the affable tone of Anne Tyler's prose and the insistent curve of her narrative towards marital accord." Booklist critic Donna Seaman, however, called the work a "charming, often hilarious, and astute novel. Tyler is in top form here. Her seemingly effortless prose is, like silk, rich in subtle hues and sheeny with dancing light."
In A Patchwork Planet Barnaby Gaitlin is pushing thirty, divorced, on the outs with his blue-blood parents, and a halfhearted and mostly absent father to his daughter, Opal. Living in rented rooms, Barnaby has found an outlet for his voyeuristic tendencies by taking a job for a handyman service. While his elderly and infirm clients enjoy his company, Barnaby fears his violent tendencies, and suspects that he may have Tourette's syndrome. Looking desperately for a means by which he can begin his "real life," he latches on to friendly bank teller Sophia Maynard, hoping that she will be just that. As New York Times Book Review contributor Carol Shields noted, with her reputation as a "warmly compassionate recorder of middle-class America," Tyler characteristically "extends toward the wayward Barnaby a corona of sympathy—understanding and condoning his hunger" for a different kind of life, and his frustration that he cannot break out of his own reality. Calling A Patchwork Life a "wonderful novel," Shields added that in this novel, as in all Tyler's work, the novelist "allows her men and women an opportunity for redemption."
Like Delia Grinstead in Ladder of Years, the protagonist of Back When We Were Grownups wants to make a drastic change in her life. At age fifty-three a widow, mother, grandmother, and businesswoman, Rebecca Davitch suddenly looks at her life and realizes that she has become the "wrong person"; once a proper, calm, self-directed young woman, she has grown into what a Publishers Weekly reviewer described as "family caretaker and cheerleader, a woman with 'a style of dress edging dangerously close to Bag Lady.'" In an effort to reconnect with her youthful potential, Rebecca rekindles an old flame in the form of professor Will Allenby, re-embraces old hobbies, and attempts to make a fresh start emotionally. In Book Beth Kephardt praised the novel's protagonist as "marvelously drawn and complex," and noted that with Back When We Were Grownups Tyler is "still not scrimping on wackiness and wit, on sentences of shocking originality, on wisdom. She is still layering on the quirkiness so that she can meticulously peel it back." Calling Tyler's style "graceful, and even felicitious," World Literature Today contributor Rita D. Jacobs praised Back When We Were Grownups as "a novel of rediscovery where a grown woman is caught unawares by the meaning in her own life."
A couple who wed impulsively during World War II and then lived in a conflicted relationship for thirty years thereafter is the focus of 2004's The Amateur Marriage. The relationship between Pauline Barclay and Michael Anton parallels that of Macon Leary and Muriel in The Accidental Tourist: Pauline is outgoing and life-affirming while the quiet but impulsive Michael opts for total self-control. Together they raise three children before divorcing in 1971, having recently suffered through the drug addiction of their hippie daughter Lindy and years of growing alienation from each other. "A lesser novelist would take moral sides" in such a story, noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, but "Tyler is much more concerned with the fine art of human survival in changing circumstances." Noting that "enjoying Tyler is like indulging in a guilty pleasure," Lisa Allardice added in a review of The Amateur Marriage that while the novel's conclusion "is shamelessly sentimental, even for Tyler, . . . the earlier revelations are shocking in their tragic banality," and that throughout the novel she "captures the messy contradictions of human affections" with a sympathetic, and even comic, nuance.
Dubbed "a quiet observer of the existential quagmire" by Time contributor Richard Lacayo, Tyler continues to live in Baltimore, where much of her fiction takes place. As a writer, she keeps to a strict schedule, working four days a week for up to eight hours a day, and takes Fridays and weekends off. Her novels are written in longhand, explained London Observer contributor Lisa Allardice, the reviewer adding that "ideas apparently come to her while vacuuming." As Allardice quoted the reclusive author, Tyler has "no secret hobbies or extra curricular activities at all—[I am] . . . too busy day-dreaming."
As Brooks observed, Tyler's "work has evolved from the simple storytelling of the early novels into the carefully crafted, eloquent novels of her later career." Town agreed, concluding that "after thirty years of writing novels Tyler continues to concentrate on the family—with insight, humor, and hope." Her novels, while focusing on adult characters, often provide insights into the way in which choices made in youth impact one's future; as a contributor to the St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers noted, "Young-adult readers struggling with family problems may be able to relate to these characters and find, as Maggie found in Breathing Lessons, that life . . . is a series of narrowing options which one can only play with as much skill and judgment as possible."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Bail, Paul, Anne Tyler: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1998.
Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Croft, Robert William, Anne Tyler: A Bio-bibliography, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1995.
Croft, Robert William, An Anne Tyler Companion, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1998.
If you enjoy the works of Anne Tyler
If you enjoy the works of Anne Tyler, you may also want to check out the following books:
Eudora Welty, The Optimist's Daughter, 1972.
Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees, 1988.
Anita Shreve, All He Ever Wanted, 2003.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 6: AmericanNovelists since World War II, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1982, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Evans, Elizabeth, Anne Tyler, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1993.
Gullette, Margaret Morganroth, Safe at Last in theMiddle Years: The Invention of the Midlife Progress Novel: Saul Bellow, Margaret Drabble, Anne Tyler, and John Thorndike, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1988.
Kissel, Susan S., Moving On: The Heroines of ShirleyAnn Grau, Anne Tyler, and Gail Godwin, Bowling Green State University Popular Press (Bowling Green, OH), 1996.
Linton, Karin, The Temporal Horizon: A Study of theTheme of Time in Anne Tyler's Major Novels, Academiae Ubsaliensis, 1989.
Petry, Alice Hall, Understanding Anne Tyler, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1990.
Petry, Alice Hall, editor, Critical Essays on Anne Tyler, G. K. Hall (New York, NY), 1992.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Salwak, Dale, editor, Anne Tyler as Novelist, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1994.
Stephens, C. Ralph, editor, The Fiction of Anne Tyler, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1990.
Voelker, Joseph C., Art and the Accidental in AnneTyler, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1989.
America, October 8, 2001, John C. Hawley, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. 33.
Antioch Review, winter, 1999, Gerda Oldham, review of A Patchwork Planet, p. 112.
Atlantic, May, 2001, Katharine Whittemore, review of Back When We Were Grownups, pp. 112-117.
Belles Lettres, January, 1996, Joan Mooney, review of Ladder of Years, p. 12.
Book, May, 2001, Beth Kephart, review of Back WhenWe Were Grownups, p. 63.
Booklist, March 15, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Ladder of Years, p. 1284; March 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of A Patchwork Planet, p. 1045.
Chicago Tribune Book World, July 20, 1986, John Blades, review of The Accidental Tourist.
Christian Century, July 4, 2001, L. Gregory Jones, "Living into Our Histories," p. 29.
Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 2001, Ron Charles, "Grandma Wonders If It's Ever Too Late," p. 21.
Commonweal, June 16, 1995, Gene H. Bell-Villada, review of Ladder of Years, pp. 21-22.
Economist, February 7, 2004, review of The AmateurMarriage, p. 80.
Entertainment Weekly, January 23, 2004, Tina Jordan, review of The Amateur Marriage, p. 104.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2001, review of Back WhenWe Were Grownups, p. 361.
Library Journal, April 15, 1998, Caroline M. Hallsworth, review of A Patchwork Planet, p. 117.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 15, 1985, Richard Eder, review of The Accidental Tourist, p. 3.
National Catholic Reporter, May 24, 1996, Pamela Schaeffer, "Anne Tyler: Family Novelist with a Twist," p. 25.
New Republic, September 1, 1989, Carol, Iannone, "Novel Events," p. 46.
New Statesman, January 19, 2004, Lisa Allardice, "Lost Innocence," p. 54.
New Yorker, March 29, 1976, John Updike, review of Searching for Caleb, pp. 110-112.
New York Times, May 18, 2001, Michiko Kakutani, "A Martha Stewart on the Inexorable Path to Her Lost Self."
New York Times Book Review, November 22, 1964, Rollene W. Saal, "Loveless Household," p. 52; April 28, 1974, Gail Godwin, review of Celestial Navigation, p. 34; January 18, 1976, Katha Pollitt, review of Searching for Caleb, p. 22; May 8, 1977, Marguerite Michaels, "Anne Tyler, Writer 8:05 to 3:30," pp. 42-43; March 14, 1982, Benjamin DeMott, "Funny, Wise, and True," pp. 1, 14; September 11, 1988, Edward Hoagland, "About Maggie, Who Tried Too Hard," pp. 43-44; April 19, 1998, Carol Shields, "Odd Jobs"; May 20, 2001, John Leonard, "The Accidental Matriarch."
Observer (London, England), January 4, 2004, Lisa Allardice, "Accidental Celeb."
People, May 11, 1998, Emily Listfield, review of APatchwork Planet, p. 48; January 19, 2004, Lee Aitken, review of The Amateur Marriage, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, March 16, 1998, review of A Patchwork Planet, p. 51; April 9, 2001, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. 51; December 22, 2003, review of The Amateur Marriage, p. 37.
Southern Literary Journal, fall, 1998, Joyce R. Durham, "Anne Tyler's Vision of Gender in Saint Maybe,"
Spectator, January 3, 2004, Anita Brookner, "A Disturbing Absence of Disturbance," p. 29.
Time, April 27, 1998, Paul Grey, review of A Patchwork Planet, p. 80; February 2, 2004, Richard Lacayo, review of The Amateur Marriage, p. 75.
Times Literary Supplement, May 5, 1995, Joyce Carol Oates, "Time to Say Goodbye," p. 22.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 28, 1988, Hilma Wolitzer, review of Breathing Lessons, pp. 1, 9.
Virginia Quarterly, summer, 1992, Patricia Rowe Willrich, "Watching through Windows: A Perspective on Anne Tyler," pp. 497-516.
Washington Post, May 20, 2001, Alice McDermott, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. T03.
Washington Post Book World, September 4, 1988, Wallace Stegner, review of Breathing Lessons, p. 1.
Women's Review of Books, July, 2001, Ellen Cronan Rose, review of A Fork in the Road, p. 30.
World and I, August, 1998, Linda Simon, review of APatchwork Planet, p. 274.
World Literature Today, spring, 2002, Rita D. Jacobs, review of Back When We Were Grownups, p. 154.
Books and Writers,http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ (July 13, 2004), "Anne Tyler."
Literary Review Online,http://www.litrev.dircon.co.uk/ (August 5, 2001), Gill Hornby, "A Man You Can Trust."
Metroactive.com,http://www.metroactive.com/ (June 25, 1998), Jonelle Bonta, "Screwball."*
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. (Russian), 1961; graduate study at Columbia University, 1961-62. Religion: Society of Friends (Quaker).
Home—222 Tunbridge Rd., Baltimore, MD 21212. Agent—Russell & 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, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Phi Beta Kappa.
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.
Tumble Tower, illustrated by daughter, Mitra Modarressi, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Timothy Tugbottom Says No!, illustrated by Mitra Modarressi, Putnam's (New York, NY), 2005.
NOVELS; FOR ADULTS
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, reprinted, Ballantine (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 (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 Tin Can Tree, Ballantine (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 (Chapel Hill, NC), 2005.
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. Breathing Lessons was adapted for film by Robert W. Lenski and released by Republic Pictures, 1994. Back When We Were Grownups was adapted as a television film on the Hallmark Hall of Fame, 2004. A Slipping Down Life was adapted for film. Saint Maybe, Earthly Possessions, and Breathing Lessons were adapted for television. Tyler's other novels have been adapted as audiobooks, among them Digging to America, Knopf, 2006.
Best-selling novelist Anne Tyler's work has earned her what Detroit News reporter Bruce Cook called "a solid literary reputation … that is based solely on the quality of her books." The author of such award-winning novels as The Accidental Tourist and Breathing Lessons, Tyler has also created several picture-book texts in collaboration with her daughter, illustrator Mitra Modarressi. In his BookPage online article, Allan Mudge wrote that "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."
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 Tyler and her husband settled in Baltimore. That city has served as the setting for many of her novels.
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. As she phrased it to Marguerite Michaels in the New York Times Book Review, Welty's fiction "showed me that very small things are often really larger than the large things." Despite their resemblances to people we meet in real life, the quirky yet compelling characters in such novels as A Patchwork Planet, The Amateur Marriage, and Digging to America, are entirely 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."
In her American Book Award-winning novel Morgan's Passing, for example, Tyler studies a forty-two-year-old hardware store manager with a knack for assuming other roles. A Patchwork Planet introduces a likeable ne'er-do-well who, as a teen, enjoyed breaking into other people's houses, not so much as a thief but to go through family mementos and pry into other peoples' lives. Other all-too-human characters people such novels as Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, and Saint Maybe.
One of Tyler's most well-known novels, The Accidental Tourist combines the author's subtle, understated probing into human nature and her eye for comic detail. In the novel, Macon Leary writes travel guides for people who dislike traveling and prefer the comfort and familiarity of their own homes. Reviewers praised the novel's gently ironic humor and sympathetic, likable characters, Richard Eder writing in the Los Angeles TimesBook Review that while Leary "is an oddity of the first water, … 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."
In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Breathing Lessons the author examines the themes of marriage, love, and regret through a story of Maggie and Ira Moran. While on a trip to the funeral of an old friend, the couple reflects on their twenty-eight years together and, while both at times regret their decision to marry, they also recognize the strength of the bond between them. Called by Library Journal reviewer Starr E. Smith "a touching, well-crafted tale of friendship, families, and what it means to be an American," Digging to America follows two middle-class Baltimore families whose members build a relationship when they each adopt baby girls from another culture. According to Smith, Digging to America "exemplifies [Tyler's] skill at depicting seemingly quiet and unremarkable lives with sympathy and humor." Calling the book a "deeply human tale of valiantly improved lives," Donna Seaman added in Booklist that "each of Tyler's endearing characters is authentically rendered."
Focusing on the role of religion, Saint Maybe introduces Ian Bedloe, a well-adjusted teenager. Ian's family life changes drastically when his older brother, Danny, marries Lucy, a divorcee 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. In the aftermath, Ian is left overcome with guilt for his own part in the family's tragedy. Seeking guidance from a fundamentalist sect led by the charismatic Brother Emmett, he is charged with caring for his brother's children as a penance for his connection with Danny's death. As New York Times Book Review contributor Jay Parini wrote of Saint Maybe, "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."
In addition to her novels for adults, Tyler has also produced several picture books for younger readers. Tumble Tower—which features illustrations by Tyler's daughter, Mitra Modarressi—is "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 compulsive 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."
Another collaboration with Modarressi, Timothy Tugbuttom Says No! introduces a preschooler who, unlike
Molly, seeks structure. In fact, he avoids anything new, whether it is a new pair of jeans, a new food, or the new "big-boy" bed his parents have given him. Through a story that School Library Journal contributor Linda L. Walkins deemed "genuine, straightforward," and featuring a "warm, positive tone," Timothy encounters a situation that encourages him to welcome the changes growing up brings. "Youngsters who resist change will find a good example and a peer" in Timothy Tugbottom, according to a Kirkus Reviews writer, while Ilene Cooper wrote in Booklist that Tyler's "simple picture book … captures a habit of petulant preschoolers."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Book, Beth Kephart, May, 2001, 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 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.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1995, 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; 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; October, 2005, Linda L. Walkins, review of Timothy Tugbuttom Says No!, p. 131.
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/ (September 28, 2006), Allen Mudge, "Mismatched Mates, Anne Tyler Explores the Dramas of Everyday Family Life" (interview).
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (September 28, 2006), 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."
Born 25 October 1941, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Daughter of Lloyd P. and Phyllis Mahon Tyler; married Taghi Mohammad Modaressi, 1963; children: two daughters
Anne Tyler was raised in North Carolina. She graduated from Duke University with a major in Russian (1961) and pursued graduate work at Columbia University (1962). She served as Russian bibliographer at the Duke University Library and as assistant to the librarian at McGill University Law Library in Montreal. In 1963 Tyler married a child psychiatrist, and they had two daughters.
Tyler has been prolific: she has written several phenomenally bestselling novels and numerous short stories, which appear in many diverse magazines, from McCall's to the New Yorker. Tyler introduces most of the major characteristics of her novels in her first, If Morning Ever Comes (1964). Plots involve the complexities of family life and are geographically bound to small towns in North Carolina or to withering row houses or more fashionable Roland Park in Baltimore. The title of each novel appears in the text and focuses on a major theme. Humor, often bittersweet, is important. Characterization is Tyler's greatest strength, especially of old people who are presented with compassion and of invincible and usually eccentric women. Tyler uses diction and grammar to establish her characters' backgrounds and imagery reflecting their problems and traits: "Pieces of Emerson were lodged with Elizabeth like shrapnel." She has established herself as a writer of unquestioned talent.
Jeremy Pauling, of Celestial Navigation (1974), is a sensitive and shy artist who lives in his own mind and who finds forays into the real world puzzling and, finally, destructive. The chapters centering on him employ a narrative voice, but the six chapters devoted to four women in Jeremy's life all use first person voices. Ironically, Jeremy experiences his greatest happiness and creativity after his mother's death (an event his sisters thought would devastate his life) and after Mary and their children depart, leaving only a note on the refrigerator door. Both Jeremy—"Wasn't that what life was all about: steadfast endurance?"—and Mary—"I don't know which takes more courage: surviving a lifelong endurance test because you once made a promise or breaking free, disrupting your whole world"—embody the trait Tyler insists on for most of her characters: endurance.
Searching for Caleb (1975) juxtaposes the comic and the serious, chronicling three generations of a Baltimore family of Roland Park. Family strife climaxes when the first cousins, Justine and Duncan, marry each other. These two set out on adventures best symbolized by the Mayflower truck that moves their rosewood chests and crystal from Roland Park and by the orange U-Haul van that, much later, moves only their books and clothes to a circus' winter trailer park. Like Celestial Navigation, this novel brings characters into Chekhovian scenes where people talk to unlistening ears. Daniel and Caleb Peck, Tyler's most endearing old people; Justine, Daniel's fortune-telling, nomad-like granddaughter; other Pecks; and eccentric strangers make up this comic novel, which details man's foibles, charms, mores, weaknesses, and flaws.
In Earthly Possessions (1977), Charlotte Emory gives a minute account of being kidnapped in a Maryland bank and abducted to Florida. In alternate chapters she tells the history of her own life (a struggle to dispossess herself of encumbering possessions) and the histories of the peculiar and unhappy families of her mother and husband. Richly humorous, this novel epitomizes in Charlotte a woman Tyler frequently portrays—a woman denied the autonomous existence she craves. No shrill feminist cries rise from Tyler's fiction, but an existential longing for freedom does.
Eccentric characters are prominent in Tyler's work; they settle into a private world, unconcerned with the day-to-day activities that dominate the lives of others. Morgan's Passing (1980) presents a highly eccentric character, Morgan Gower, in fascinating detail. The reader, however, is left somewhat at a loss, never completely sure of the character or of his personae.
A skillful writer, Tyler treats serious and often tragic themes without sacrificing the comic. Her prose, as some critics charge, is not stylistically daring, and her concerns are not with depressed minorities or with mythic ghosts. Instead, she writes truly about the lives of middle class Americans, and her characters dwell, asJohn Updike has said, "where poetry and adventure form as easily as dew."
Tyler's critical and popular success has increased steadily. Since Morgan's Passing she has published more critically acclaimed and prize-winning novels and many short stories. In 1988, The Accidental Tourist (1985, a National Book Critics award-winner) became a major motion picture starring William Hurt; in the same year, Tyler received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Breathing Lessons (1988).
All of Tyler's novels take place in Baltimore, where she has lived for many years. They are portraits of families who, behind the appearance of normality, shelter idiosyncrasies, pain, and secrets. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982) begins with 85-year-old Pearl Tull looking back on her life and the three children she raised alone after being abandoned by her husband. Gradually, the reader sees the profound effect this desertion has had on each character, and the inability of these children to escape their past, even as adults. In the end, however, the bonds of family overcome the pain of years of misunderstandings and lack of communication.
The Accidental Tourist is about the Learys, another abandoned family. Most of the story centers around Macon Leary, a man controlled by structure and routine. His apparent refusal to grieve after the brutal murder of his son drives away his wife, causing Macon to draw even more inward. Not until he meets Muriel Pritchett, whom he hires to train his unruly and sometimes vicious dog, does Macon finally begin to live. The Learys are an excellent example of Tyler's ability to portray a seemingly ordinary family with all their quirks and hangups in a subtle, ironic, and humorous way.
Breathing Lessons (1988) takes place in one day, with periodic flashbacks. During the journey to and from a friend's funeral, Ira and Maggie Moran come to certain realizations about their children and themselves, particularly how different from their expectations their life has become. Recognizing their regrets, they also come to know the importance of the bond they share.
The Bedloe family in Saint Maybe (1991) has also failed to live up to its own expectations. It is the "ideal" family, but through a series of tragic events, the course of all their lives changes drastically and permanently. The novel focuses on Ian, the youngest son, who sacrifices his own goals and dreams in an effort to make amends for what has happened. With more sadness and less humor than Tyler's previous work, the novel delves beautifully into the lives of ordinary people and the necessity for endurance.
Winner of the 1996 O. Henry award, Ladder of Years (1996) tells the adventures of Mrs. Delia Grinstead, who, following a chance encounter at a grocery store while on vacation with her family, runs away to begin a new life as Miss Grinstead. Life's little complications happen to Miss Grinstead just as they did to Mrs. Grinstead. Ladder of Years is a novel about marriages of all sorts, family relationships, and the interaction of people in general. The theme of Ladder of Years alludes to King Lear : when all three of his boss's daughters are lined up in front of him, Sam Grinstead chooses the youngest, Cordelia ("Delia") to become his bride. A fairy tale of sorts ensues, but for Delia all is not the "happily ever after" of fairytales. Publisher's Weekly said Tyler "engages our sympathy and growing respect for a character who finally realizes that the ladder of years is a time trip to the future."
A Patchwork Planet (1998) again is a study of family life and interpersonal relationships. Tyler once again makes the ordinary magical as she weaves the story of Barnaby, a wealthy ne'er-do-well, as he tries to make something of his life. The reader comes to care about Barnaby, struggling along with him as he tries to turn his life around. Tyler's first foray as a writer of children's literature came in 1993 with the publication of Tumble Tower. Written for children ages four to eight, Kirkus called it "a gently subversive fable celebrating the rewards of disorder." It is the story of Molly, whose discomfortingly messy room ultimately offers comfort to the rest of her family.
Tyler continues to write novels of family life peopled with characters who are true-to-life in middle-class oddball families, dealing with loneliness, isolation, human interaction. A psychologist analyzing her characters might call them dysfunctional, but they continue to be endearing to the reader. All of Tyler's main characters face crossroads, and while deciding what to do, waver, just like "real" people. The rest of her novels deal with the results of the decision ultimately made. Her work retains its clarity of style, and her ability to combine the tragic with the comic gives her characters a genuine humanity. She consistently addresses the individual struggle for identity, happiness, and fulfillment, and demonstrates that the simple, even the apparently trivial, is sometimes the source of what is most rich and complex in life, and well worth examination.
The Tin Can Tree (1965). A Slipping-Down Life (1970). The Clock Winder (1972). The Best American Short Stories of 1983 (edited with S. Ravanel, 1983).
Petry, A. H., Understanding Anne Tyler (1990). Rainwater, C. and W. J. Scheick, eds., Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies (1985). Stephens, C. R., ed., The Fiction of Anne Tyler (1990). Sternburg, J. ed., The Writer on Her Work: Contemporary Women Reflect on Their Art and Situation (1980). Voelker, J., Art and the Accidental in Anne Tyler (1989).
CA (1974). CANR (1984, 1991). CLC 7 (1977, 1979, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1990). CBY (1981). DLB (1980). DLBY (1982). MTCW (1991). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). SATA (1975).
Atlantic (Mar. 1976). Atlantis: A Women's Studies Journal (Fall 1987). Classical and Modern Literature (Fall 1989). English Journal (Fall 1987). Hollins Critic (Apr. 1986). Iowa Journal of Literary Studies (1981). KR (1997). Mississippi Quarterly (Winter 1988). New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly (Spring 1985). NY (29 Mar. 1976, 6 June 1977). People (26 Dec. 1988). Southern Literary Journal (Fall 1983). Southern Quarterly (Summer 1983). SR (Jan. 1978, Fall 1984).
Amazon.com, and various reviews and articles available online at: http://auxiliaries.ba.kent.edu/pages/Book/Bizs/fiction.html; http://books.realcities.com/reviews/0420/patchworkplanet1/.htm; http://www.canoe/ca/JamBooksReviews/jul5_patchwork.html; and http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/atyler.htm; http://www.randomhouse.com/.
UPDATED BY SHAUNA SUMMERS
HEIDI HARTWIG DENLER
Nationality: American. Born: Minneapolis, Minnesota, 25 October 1941. Education: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, 1958-61, B.A. 1961; Columbia University, New York, 1961-62. Family: Married Taghi Modarressi in 1963 (deceased 1997); two daughters. Career: Russian bibliographer, Duke University Library, 1962-63; assistant to the librarian, McGill University Law Library, Montreal, 1964-65. Awards: American Academy award, 1977; Janet Kafka prize, 1981; PEN Faulkner award, 1983; National Book Critics Circle award, 1986; Pulitzer prize, 1989. Agent: Russell and Volkening Inc., 50 West 29th Street, New York, New York 10001. Address: 222 Tunbridge Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21212, U.S.A.
If Morning Ever Comes. New York, Knopf, 1964; London, Chatto and Windus, 1965.
The Tin Can Tree. New York, Knopf, 1965; London, Macmillan, 1966.
A Slipping-Down Life. New York, Knopf, 1970; London, SevernHouse, 1983.
The Clock Winder. New York, Knopf, 1972; London, Chatto andWindus, 1973.
Celestial Navigation. New York, Knopf, 1974; London, Chatto andWindus, 1975.
Searching for Caleb. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto andWindus, 1976.
Earthly Possessions. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto andWindus, 1977.
Morgan's Passing. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto andWindus, 1980.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1982.
The Accidental Tourist. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto andWindus, 1985.
Breathing Lessons. New York, Knopf, 1988; London, Chatto andWindus, 1989.
Saint Maybe. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1991.
Ladder of Years. New York, Knopf, 1995.
A Patchwork Planet. New York, Knopf, 1998.
Uncollected Short Stories
"I Play Kings," in Seventeen (New York), August 1963.
"Street of Bugles," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 30November 1963.
"Nobody Answers the Door," in Antioch Review (Yellow Springs, Ohio), Fall 1964.
"I'm Not Going to Ask You Again," in Harper's (New York), September 1965.
"Everything But Roses," in Reporter (New York), 23 September1965.
"As the Earth Gets Old," in New Yorker, 29 October 1966.
"Feather Behind the Rock," in New Yorker, 12 August 1967.
"Flaw in the Crust of the Earth," in Reporter (New York), 2November 1967.
"Common Courtesies," in McCall's (New York), June 1968.
"With All Flags Flying," in Redbook (New York), June 1971.
"Bride in the Boatyard," in McCall's (New York), June 1972.
"Respect," in Mademoiselle (New York), June 1972.
"Misstep of the Mind," in Seventeen (New York), October 1972.
"Knack for Languages," in New Yorker, 13 January 1975.
"Some Sign That I Ever Made You Happy," in McCall's (NewYork), October 1975.
"Your Place Is Empty," in New Yorker, 22 November 1976.
"Holding Things Together," in New Yorker, 24 January 1977.
"Average Waves in Unprotected Waters," in New Yorker, 28 February 1977.
"Foot-Footing On," in Mademoiselle (New York), November 1977.
"The Geologist's Maid," in Stories of the Modern South, edited by Ben Forkner and Patrick Samway. New York, Penguin, 1981.
"Laps," in Parents' Magazine (New York), August 1981.
"The Country Cook," in Harper's (New York), March 1982.
"Teenage Wasteland," in The Editors' Choice 1, edited by George E. Murphy, Jr. New York, Bantam, 1985.
"Rerun," in New Yorker, 4 July 1988.
"A Street of Bugles," in Saturday Evening Post (Indianapolis), July-August 1989.
"A Woman Like a Fieldstone House," in Louder than Words, edited by William Shore. New York, Vintage, 1989.
Tumble Tower (for children). New York, Orchard, 1993.
Editor, with Shannon Ravenel, The Best American Short Stories 1983. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1983; as The Year's Best American Short Stories, London, Severn House, 1984.
Editor, with Shannon Ravenel, Best of the South: From Ten Years of New Stories from the South. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1996.*
The Accidental Tourist, 1988.
Anne Tyler: A Bio-Bibliography by Robert W. Croft, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1995.
Art and the Accidental in Anne Tyler by Joseph C. Voelker, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1989; The Temporal Horizon: A Study of the Theme of Time in Anne Tyler's Major Novels by Karin Linton, Uppsala, Sweden, Studia Anglistica, 1989; The Fiction of Anne Tyler edited by C. Ralph Stephens, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1990; Understanding Anne Tyler by Alice Hall Petty, Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1990; Anne Tyler as Novelist, edited by Dale Salwak, Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 1994; Moving On: The Heroines of Shirley Ann Grau, Anne Tyler, and Gail Godwin by Susan S. Kissel, Bowling Green, Ohio, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996; An Anne Tyler Companion by Robert W. Croft, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1998; Anne Tyler: A Critical Companion by Paul Bail, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1998.* * *
Anne Tyler's novels do not create cosmic waves but have quietly and carefully, for over a third of a century, attempted to illustrate the struggle between asserting one's individual identity versus functioning in a role within the American middle-class family. Perhaps it is because Tyler seems to place such importance on the role of family or because her settings stay primarily around the city and suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, or perhaps critics do not see her pushing the boundaries enough. In any case, despite a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for Breathing Lessons and a National Book Critics Circle Award, Tyler's work is chronically appreciated but not heralded by critics. Nevertheless, she is a prolific and popular writer. Her tendency to use humor to create colorful characters and place them into fairly ordinary circumstances has gained her a loyal readership and prompted comparisons to Eudora Welty, an American writer whose work she claims as an influence.
In Morgan's Passing, for instance, Morgan appears to be a well-adjusted family man. Inside, however, we discover he is struggling with what he sees as the madhouse he lives in—the goings on of his seven daughters and their friends are driving him over the edge. He attempts to cope through the use of costume and impersonation. Alternately, he becomes a tugboat captain, doctor, politician, clerk at a fish market, priest, and others. Morgan's home is not his haven, so he has to find shelter at his office at Cullen Hardware, and this refuge of changing identities within the world of work is reminiscent of Walter Mitty.
The quirky character in Breathing Lessons is Junie, Ira's sister. Like Jeremy in Celestial Navigation, Junie does not like to leave home. Ira's wife, Maggie, decides to help her break out of her shell by performing a makeover routine on her, from makeup to clothes. Like Morgan, Junie seems to draw courage from this disguised identity in the outside world. Unlike Morgan, however, Junie will only leave home with Ira at her side because as family, he represents a part of home going out with her.
In Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Ezra tries to create a family atmosphere at the restaurant that he feels is missing at home. In this novel, again there is a juxtaposition of the individual, the family, and the outside world of work and commerce. Tyler admits and demonstrates that the three do not always easily cohabit. In The Accidental Tourist, it takes another eccentric character, Muriel Pritchett, the dog trainer, to bring Macon Leary out of his sheltered world in which traveling is simply for business, not pleasure.
Delia Grinstead, in Ladder of Years, leaves her sheltered life in a much different way. If readers suspect Tyler is only capable of writing in a her self-established pattern, this novel marks a shift from the dependence on the quirky character device to an exploration of every family members' fantasy—what if I just walked right out that door and never came back? While at the beach, that is just what forty-yearold Delia does, finally settling in a small town in Delaware to find the self she never knew by living all of her adult life in the same house in which she grew up. As Tyler matures, so does her writing, and one wonders whether she may be one of the best chroniclers of the problems women born in mid-twentieth century America and living in the domestic sphere face in later life.
With A Patchwork Planet, Tyler returned to her familiar pattern, however. This time, she attempts to write from the point of view of Barnaby Gaitlin, a thirty-year-old loser who takes care of eccentric old people. In this novel, it is not so much a character from within a family doing the searching as it is a character without family searching for a home. While one wishes Tyler would venture out from her own protective sphere of character patterns, one cannot help but praise her for taking advantage of exploring what seems like every possible angle on the struggles of the individual inside and outside the shelter of home and family. Perhaps with the perspective of an elder spokesperson in the years ahead, she will offer new insights that only someone who has worked on a subject for many years can contribute to our understanding of this very ordinary, but vital aspect of the human condition.
—Connie Ann Kirk
Anne Tyler (born 1941) is considered one of America's most important living writers. Her works evince familiarity with an extended literary tradition, with influences ranging from Emerson and Thoreau to Faulkner and Welty.
Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941; her family moved frequently, generally living in Quaker communities in the Midwest and South, before settling in North Carolina. Tyler attended Duke University, where she majored in Russian. In her first year, she became a pupil of Reynolds Price, who himself would become a major novelist and long-time friend. Price encouraged Tyler to pursue writing more vigorously, but she instead dedicated most of her attention to Russian. She graduated in 1961 then entered Columbia University to continue her studies. In 1962, she returned to Duke as Russian bibliographer for the library. The following year, Tyler married Taghi Modarressi, a psychologist from Iran. In 1964, the two moved to Montreal, where Tyler worked as an assistant librarian at McGill University Law School and wrote her first two novels If Morning Ever Comes (1964) and The Tin Can Tree (1965). In 1967, she and her husband moved to Baltimore, the setting for most of Tyler's subsequent novels. With the publication of A Slipping-Down Life (1970) and The Clock Winder (1972), Tyler began to receive more serious and positive critical attention, but only in the mid-seventies, when such writers as Gail Godwin and John Updike called attention to her, did her novels benefit from widespread recognition. Tyler's stature as an important literary figure was confirmed by the success of Morgan's Passing (1980), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award and received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. Dinner at Homesick Restaurant (1982) won the PEN/ Faulkner Award for fiction and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. The Accidental Tourist (1985) and Breathing Lessons (1988) were honored respectively with a National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize.
Throughout Tyler's novels, characters struggle to negotiate a balance between self-identity and family identity. In her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes, Ben Joe Hawkes returns home from law school because he could not concentrate; he worried what was happening at home while he was gone. The only man in a family of women, Ben feels he must play the role of substitute father. But after only a day back, he is oppressed with the responsibilities he at least partially imposes upon himself. In The Clock Winder, Elizabeth Abbot flees from the roles of gardener and "handyman" in her family, but she winds up acting out the same roles for another family, the Emersons. She tries to escape that family, too, but returns to be caregiver, wife, and mother. In a less traditional rebellion from conventional family roles, Evie Decker of A Slipping-Down Life protests her lot as an unattractive, overweight girl by carving the name of a rock musician into her forehead. The action makes her the center of popular attention, but she eventually marries the musician, whose career she has boosted; she ends up not merely as wife, but as an object of good publicity. Dinner at Homesick Restaurant, portrays the psychological suffering of abused children who cannot permanently leave the site of their abuse, the "homesick restaurant." The children relive the family dinners that were never finished. The novel suggests, much like Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, that the defining influence of family cannot be escaped. Tyler's more recent novels, while dealing with psychologically suffering characters, have been slightly less pessimistic. The Accidental Tourist, the movie version of which helped make Tyler an even more well-known name, deals with the grief of Macon Leary—whose marriage collapses after the murder of his son. Like protagonists from Tyler's previous novels, Macon has a close yet ambivalent relationship with his brothers and sisters and must choose between lonely security and the uncertain comforts of human love. Critics find Tyler at the height of her powers of observation in Breathing Lessons, as she defines personality through small details and gestures and emphasizes the influence of a shared history on a marital relationship. Within a day-in-the-life framework augmented by flashbacks, she captures the nuances of compromise, disappointment, and love that make up Ira and Maggie Moran's marriage. The owner of a picture-framing store, Ira is uncommunicative and compulsively neat; Maggie is his warm, clumsy, talkative wife of nearly three decades. Intending to travel to Pennsylvania for a funeral on the Saturday morning of the novel's opening, and to return that afternoon, the couple spend most of the day on the road, making two extended sidetrips caused by Maggie's meddling in the affairs of strangers and relatives. Generously sprinkled with comic set-pieces that reveal her characters' foibles, Breathing Lessons has been called Tyler's funniest novel to date.
Tyler's first two novels received little critical attention; they were seen as slight works by an author who showed significant promise. Tyler herself has essentially disavowed her first novels. Tyler and critics alike viewed A Slipping-Down Life as an important point of development in her career as writer; the portrait of Evie was praised for its accurate depiction of loneliness and desperation. Most critics considered Tyler's fifth novel, Celestial Navigation, a breakthrough for her career. The praise of Gail Godwin and John Updike helped launch the book into further popularity, and with each successive novel, Tyler gained more respect not just as a writer with popular appeal but as a writer of literary importance. As her works began to receive nominations for major literary awards, however, Tyler came under more intense scrutiny from critics, some of whom argued that she too glibly mixed comedy with seriousness. After Dinner with Homesick Restaurant, though, few critics would deny her importance in contemporary fiction.
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Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 7, 1977; Volume 11, 1979; Volume 18, 1981; Volume 28, 1984; Volume 44, 1987; Volume 59, 1990.
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Flora, Joseph M., and Robert Bain, Fifty Southern Writers After 1900: A Bio-Bibliographic Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, 1987, pp. 491-504.
Inge, Tonette Bond, editor, Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, University of Alabama Press, 1990. □
TYLER, Anne. American, b. 1941. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories. Publications: 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, 1976; Earthly Possessions, 1977; Morgan's Passing, 1980; Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, 1982; (ed. with S. Ravenel) The Best American Short Stories 1983, 1983; The Accidental Tourist, 1985; Breathing Lessons, 1988 (Pulitzer Prize); Saint Maybe, 1991; Tumble Tower (juvenile), 1993; Ladder of Years, 1995; A Patchwork Planet, 1998; Back When We Were Grownups, 2001; The Amateur Marriage, 2004. Address: 222 Tunbridge Rd, Baltimore, MD 21212, U.S.A.