3 May 2012

Anne Tyler: If Morning Ever Comes (1964)

Orville Prescott was the chief book reviewer for the New York Times for many years. In 1964 he concluded his review of Anne Tyler's first novel, If Morning Ever Comes, by saying that it is a 'fine book' by a 'rarely talented' novelist. And yet Tyler – before she gave up giving interviews – told Paul Binding (in Separate Countries: A Literary Journey through the American South (1979)) that she 'virtually disown[ed]' her first two novels. Tyler did give a very rare interview in London last month to Lisa Allardice, in which she extends the number of disowned books to her first four: she says she'd like to destroy them as she didn't know what she was doing, that she was 'just finding [her] way' (Guardian Review, 14 April 2012). Fortunately, those books are out there and no matter what Tyler may think of them, they provide the serious reader with an very valuable insight into the early workings of the writer.

If Morning Ever Comes doesn't involve a great deal of action or a large number of characters and the main story can be summed up easily: student Ben Joe briefly returns from Columbia University, NYC, to his mother and sisters in smalltown North Carolina after he's learned his sister Joanne has left her husband Gary, and he goes back to university a few days later with his old flame Shelley, whom he will shortly marry. Themes that will become common in Tyler's later novels are there: walking out on a relationship, the importance of the family, the conflict between reflection and impulse, the world of dreams, familiarity versus novelty, emotional constipation, etc. There's even the touch of pedantry sometimes used by Tyler's characters, in this case when Ben Joe corrects Tessie's 'somthing' on the kitchen blackboard-cum-bulletin board.

But I can't see any reason why Tyler should want to 'disown' this book: it may not be among her best, but it's certainly not a bad first novel.
The links below are to Anne Tyler novels I've written posts on:

Anne Tyler: The Tin Can Tree (1965)
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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