4 May 2012

Anne Tyler: The Tin Can Tree (1965)

It's slightly odd how this looks like a YA cover, but then this is a 1980s edition, and I suppose many covers at that time were intended to look breezy. But can an Anne Tyler novel ever be called breezy?

The funeral at the beginning here predicts Breathing Lessons; the painful funeral meal predicts many other painful meals in Tyler's novels; Ansel's antisocial behavior predicts that of many other Tyler eccentrics; Simon's flight from home predicts so many other flights, but especially that of the child Luke Tull in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Most of all, the awful effect of child death predicts The Accidental Tourist, only here it affects a greater number of people.

I really don't understand those who find Tyler's novels comforting. Adam Mars-Jones describes her books (admittedly when compared with Philip Roth's) as offering 'milk and cookies', and even Tyler herself to some extent agrees with that. So why do I find them so disturbing? Celestial Navigation, for instance, is a nightmare and was a nightmare for Tyler to write, but is that novel such an exception? For me, Tyler is constantly underlining how difficult it is to live in society: her families are often prisons, and it's hardly surprising that so many of her characters try to break free. But then, of course, the mind is a prison too. Take one sentence in The Tin Can Tree, in which the narrator is inside Joan's head, and which includes the word that prefigures the adjective in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: 'Everything she saw made her homesick, but not for any home she's ever had.' That 'homesick'* is crucial to Tyler's fiction, and the above sentence is highly revealing: many of Tyler's characters live the outsider's pain, and alienation seems to be the norm.

*'Homesick' clearly has a double meaning, and also refers to being sick of home.

The links below are to a Guardian interview by Lisa Allardice, and to Anne Tyler novels I've written posts on:

'Anne Tyler: A Life's Work' – Lisa Allardice's recent Guardian Review interview
Anne Tyler: If Morning Ever Comes (1964)
Anne Tyler: The Clock Winder (1972)
Anne Tyler: Celestial Navigation (1974)
Anne Tyler: Earthly Possessions (1977)
Anne Tyler: Morgan's Passing (1980)
Anne Tyler: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)
Anne Tyler: The Accidental Tourist (1985)
Anne Tyler: Breathing Lessons (1988)
Anne Tyler: Ladder of Years (1995)
Anne Tyler: A Patchwork Planet (1998)
Anne Tyler: Back When We Were Grownups (2001)
Anne Tyler: The Amateur Marriage (2004)
Anne Tyler: Digging to America (2006)
Anne Tyler: Noah's Compass (2009)
Anne Tyler: The Beginner's Goodbye (2012)
Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread (2015)

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