by Anne Tyler
The second book I have read by this author. How I came by this book is a silly story, but I feel the need to tell it. I was about two-thirds of the way through Patrick Gale’s A Place called Winter, and put the book ready to take with me to the hairdresser. When I got into town, I realised I had left the book behind. Never mind, I had a bit of time in hand, and as I walked past a charity bookstore on the way in, I decided to go in and look for something to read. I had intended to read this book at some point, so it was an obvious choice. Rather than spend 20 minutes reading the hairdresser’s magazines while my hair colour was settling, I would far rather get to grips with a good novel!
It was a rewarding decision. Anne Tyler is able to get right under the skin of families with all their nuances of relationships, behaviours, and traditions. In this novel she deals with the relationships between adult children and their increasingly frail parents; between siblings, whether related by blood or adoption; between in-laws; and of course between husband and wife. As the stories of at least three generations of the same family unravel, the reader gets a glimpse of just how complex family life really is; and how apparently random the decisions that bring us together.
Tyler begins this novel by relating the two ‘stories’ that are most important in the Whitshank family tradition, and hints that all families have such stories. In fact, these two stories are not the most significant in the history of the family, as the reader later finds out. But they are the ones that the family likes to recall.
One scene that more particularly resonates is where the teenage Abby visits Red’s parents’ house to provide moral support for her then boyfriend, a friend of Red’s who has been drafted in to help fell a tree in preparation for Red’s sister Merrick’s wedding. Abby observes Red’s parents, and the way in which Red and his somewhat difficult father relate to each other. She immediately sees in Red a determination and steadiness (my words) that her current boyfriend lacks. And makes the decision that will shape her life.
A masterful storyteller. I can’t wait to read more by this author.