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|Anne Tyler (1941-)|
American novelist and short-story writer, whose keen ear for dialogue and life-like characters have won critical acclaim. Several of Tyler's novels have been set in Baltimore and focus on middle-class families, their secrets, ambitions, dreams, and crises. Among Tyler's best-known books is The Accidental Tourist (1985), which was made into a successful film, and the Pulitzer Prize winner Breathing Lessons (1988).
"I mean you're given all these lessons for the unimportant things - piano-playing, typing. You're given years of lessons in how to do in normal life. But how about parenthood? Or marriage, either, come to think of it. Before you can drive a car you need a state-approved course of instruction, but driving a car is nothing, nothing, compared to living day in and day out with a husband and rising up a new human being." (from Breathing Lessons, 1988)
Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the daughter of Lloyd Parry Tyler, an industrial chemist, and Phyllis Mahon Tyler, a social worker. Before settling in Raleigh, North Carolina, the family lived among various Quaker communities in the rural south. These years formed background for Tyler's Southern literary flavor, which is seen in the settings of her fiction. Also the writer Eudora Welty, who has depicted the Mississippi of her childhood, has influenced Tyler.
The Tylers moved several times in their search for an ideal place to raise their children. In 1948, when Anne was six, the Tyler family found the Celo Community, near Burnsville, in the mountains of North Carolina. The community operated on a shared labor basis. At Celo the Tylers lived in their own house, raised some stock, and used organic farming techniques. The children in the settlemed received lessons in art, carpentry, and cooking. Anne attended also a small local public school at Harvard. According to a story, whenever the school's principal had to take a short leave to look after his cows, Anne was put in charge.
By the age of seven Anne had started to write stories. Most of these early writings concerned "lucky, lucky girls who got to go west in covered wagons." Her favorite book was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. Later she has said that the book showed her "how the world worked, how the years flowed by and people altered and nothing could ever stay the same." At the age of 19 Tyler graduated from Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, where she twice won the Anne Flexner Award for creative writing. Her first published short story, 'Laura,' appeared in Duke University's literary magazine, the Archive. She became a member of Phi Beta Kappa and did post-graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. Before settling in Baltimore, her home town for much of her adult life, Tyler was a bibliographer at Duke University, ordering books from the Soviet Union, and worked in the law library of McGill University. Tyler married in 1963 the Iranian-born child psychiatrist Taghi Modarressi; they had two daughters. Her husband died in 1997.
As a writer Tyler made her debut with If Morning Ever Comes (1964). It depicted a young man, Ben Joe Hawkes, who returns from Columbia to North Carolina and attempts to find his own way under family expectations. He knows that his father had lived alternately with his wife and mistress and his grandmother married his grandfather although she was in love with another man. Finally Ben must decide how to continue with his ex-girlfriend.
In 1967 Tyler became a full-time writer. She won in 1977 an award from the American Academy for Earthly Possessions. Her novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982) explores tensions inside a family – for Tyler it is the basic battlefield of all society. The events are seen from the perspective from each member in turn. Pearl Cody Tull's children have all their own view of her – she is violently abusive, suspicious, or nurturing. Absentminded Ezra, the youngest son, runs the restaurant of the title, where Pearl's husband and her children gather for dinner after her funeral.
The Accidental Tourist won in 1986 National Book Critics Circle Award and was made into a film in 1988, directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. The protagonist is Macon Leary, who writers travel guides for travel-hating businessmen. After his son, Ethan is murdered in a fast-food joint and his wife Sarah leaves him, Macon spends his time in planes, addicted to routine. "He approved planes. When the weather was calm, you couldn't even tell you were moving. You could pretend you were sitting safe at home. The view from the window was always the same – air and more air – and the interior of one plane was practically interchangeable with the interior of any other." Macon's routines are shattered when he meets Muriel Pritchett, a dog trainer and her young son. Macon moves in with Muriel, but Sarah wants him back. As is many Tyler's novels, the characters are hesitant to flee their present lives. In this story Tyler also reassures that what ever happens, life goes on. The Amateur Marriage (2003), Tyler's sixteenth novel, shows on the other hand, that domestic conflicts have the tendency to continue several generations. Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay marry during the early World War II years. The dissolving of their marriage takes decades.
In 1989 Tyler won the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons, a story of a couple who have been married for 28 years. Maggie Moran is the eternal optimist, daring and enterprising. She is married to Ira, who plays solitaire, and the mother of Jesse, a dropout from high school, and Daisy. On a hot summer day Maggie and Ira drive to the funeral of the husband of Maggie's best friend. During their 90-mile trip, Tyler explores the problems of marriage, love and happiness. "She [Tyler] loves love stories, though she often inventories the woe and entropy of lovelessness. She likes a wedding and all the ways weddings can differ, loves to enumerate the idiosyncrasies of children's sensibilities and of house furnishings. Temperate though she is, she celebrates intemperance, zest and an appetite for whatever, just as long as families stay together. She wants her characters plausibly married and carring for each other." (Edward Hoagland in The New York Times, September 11, 1988)
In Saint Maybe (1991) Tyler dealt with the theme of guilt inside an unhappy middle-class family. After the death of his older brother Danny and his grief-stricken widow, Ian is tortured by self-accusations. He takes care for the orphaned children with his parents and becomes in the eyes of the youngest "King Careful. Mr. Look-Both-Ways. Saint Maybe." Ladder of the Year (1996) is a story about a woman who leaves her marriage and family to discover who she is. A Patchwork Planet (1998) is about Barnaby Gaitlin, a former delinquent, incurable optimist, and divorced. His daughter Opal, with her suspicious, piercing questions, sounds like her mother. Barnaby helps old people through an organization called Rent-a-Back, but it is a mystery for him what makes some people more virtuous than others. "One of the high points of this narrative is a potluck Thanksgiving dinner at which no one has provided a turkey. There are two pumpkin chiffon pies, a marshmallow-yam casserole, and a cake made in Sophia’s Crock-Pot, and the difficulty is this: 'If a meal is mainly dessert, it’s hard to know when it’s over.'"(Hilary Mantel in The New York Review of Books, November 5, 1998) In Back When We Were Grownups (2001) a mother of a large family, Rebecca Davitch, discovers that "she had turned into the wrong person." Rebecca is a grandmother, "wide and soft and dimpled, with two short wings of dry, fair hair flaring almost horizontally from a center part." She doesn't believe that it is too late to make changes and tries to find her true self from her past.
Most of Tyler's novels have been set in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives. Baltimore's Roland Park is also one of the places where her characters live, including Macon Leary of The Accidental Tourist, Delia Grinstead from Ladder of Years, and the Peck Family in Searching for Caleb. Muriel Pritchett from the Accidental Tourist, the Tull family in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Rebecca Davitch in Back When We Were Grownuops reside in Chares Village. The opening scene of Ladder of Years takes place in Roland Park, an epitome of "upper-middle-class Waspdom in all its glory" (Gerson Nason in The Independent, 19 January 2003). Digging to America (2006) was a story of two families, the Iranian-born Yazdans and the Donaldsons, who are connected by adopted Korean girls. Tyler's 18th novel, Noah's Compass (2010), tells of a 60-year-old man who finds again his joy of living after losing his job and being attacked in his apartment. In 2011 Tyler became a nominee for the the prestigious Man Booker prize. The Beginner's Goodbye (2012) opened with the sentence: "The strangest thing about my wife's return from the dead was how other people reacted."
For further reading: The Temporal Horizon by K. Linton (1989); Art and the Accidental in Anne Tyler's Major Novels by J. Voelker (1989); The Fiction of Anne Tyler, ed. C.R. Stephens (1990); Understanding Anne Tyler by A.H. Petry (1990); Critical Essays on Anne Tyler, ed. A.H. Petry (1992); Anne Tyler by E. Evans (1993); Anne Tyler as Novelist, ed. D. Salwak (1994); Anne Tyler: A Bio-Bibliography by Robert W. Croft (1995); Anne Tyler by Paul Bail (1998); An Anne Tyler Companion by Robert W. Croft (1998); Anne Tyler: A Critical Companion by Paul Bail (1998); Loss and Decline in the Novels of Anne Tyler: The "Slipping-Down" Life by Susan S. Adams (2006)