Sunday, July 11, 2010

Anne Tyler I'm Not

But I can wish! About 15 years ago my supervisor at the time, Daria Parry, gave me the honor of letting me run the book discussion group at the library where we worked. I think she was already beginning to burn out on being a librarian and, though I was the elder, it was a mid-life career change for me and I was passionate about it. And nervous!

We were to discuss, I believe, Ladder of Years, and I had proofread the publicity a thousand times. There was nothing misleading about it. Nevertheless, when I walked into the meeting room with my tummy in knots, I was met with strange glances and whispers. It seemed that the ladies were expecting Anne Tyler herself! PRESSURE! I had to put on my tap dancing shoes to make up for their disappointment but all must have worked out because I had a loyal following in Bonita Springs for the year and a half that I was there. We were even televised!

Since then I have enjoyed Ms. Tyler's novels, some more than others. I guess I was rather disappointed with Digging to America and, therefore, did myself the disservice of not jumping on Noah's Compass as soon as it came out. I seem to recall that the reviews were varied but I think it's hands down one of her best. First of all, I practically read it in a night and I can tell you that doesn't happen often. Then, it has a fabulous first line: "In the sixty-first year of his life, Liam Pennywell lost his job."

Well, that says it all, doesn't it? Being sixty-one myself, I will admit to taking issue with Liam's insensitive daughters and friends who seemed to see him as "over the hill," and that made me curious as to Anne Tyler's age which I quickly discovered exceeds Liam's and my own by about 5 or 6 years. I just love her sense of humor which shines continuously throughout this book. It's been a while since I've laughed out loud so often while reading (yes, you know that my reading habits are generally pretty dark).

Liam Pennywell is a great literary character. I would characterize him as the male version of Olive Kitteridge if that tells you something. He's book smart but culturally naive, he's a man who isn't impressed by "stuff," preferring to leave a small footprint, he's alone but not lonely, he distrusts religion but trusts people.

Losing his job does not really upset him - he's had enough anyway. Just imagine, he thinks, being able to stay at home and read all day. Sound familiar. But, of course, it's not to be. Liam begins simplifying his life by moving to a smaller apartment where he is immediately the victim of a break in. He wakes up in a hospital bed with a skull cap of bandages, a throbbing head and no memory. His heretofore distant daughters come out of the woodwork, accompanied by his ex-wife, all with unwanted advice and criticism aimed at the way he's living. How Liam handles the changes that come his way, a teenager moving in with him, a romantic interest, are poignantly set out for us in Tyler's inimitable way. If you've missed this one, go grab a copy, pronto!

Meanwhile I've been obsessing about my review of Philip Roth's new novel Nemesis which I really, really liked and therein lies the problem. Reviewing a book I've enjoyed is much more difficult for me than the other way around. I don't know, there are just so many adjectives, we can't quote from the ARC and have to keep it around 200 words. Good grief!

I've also started my major July reading project Karl Marlantes' 600 page tome on the Vietnam War, Matterhorn. It knocked me out from the first page. Don't you just love it when a novel does that? Speaking of which, I'm done painting for the day so I think I'll get back to it.

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