Sunday, February 19, 2012

Love Anne Tyler? Try Hilma Wolitzer

As I anxiously wait for the release of Anne Tyler's new novel in April, I picked up Hilma Wolitzer's beautifully nuanced portrayal of a sixty something widower forced into the dating game by his stepkids. An Available Man immediately reminded me of one of my favorite Anne Tyler books Noah's Compass.

The available man in question is truly a gem. Edward Schuyler, who'd been abandoned at the altar as a younger man, spent years serial dating after Laurel's betrayal until he met and married the unflappable Bea, gaining a son, daughter and dog in the bargain. Wolitzer describes Edward's and Bea's marriage as one of those truly comfortable, no drama relationships, they were a perfect fit. That's what made her cancer diagnosis so difficult to accept, her death so quick, and the empty place so deep.

As they will, well meaning friends allow Edward very little time to mourn. The casseroles pile up, invitiations abound, but he just isn't ready. He's a sensitive man, he enjoys his privacy, he loves his teaching job, and he has his hobbies, birding for one. Grief counseling is uncomfortable for Edward, why can't they just leave him alone to think about Bea and the plans they'd made?

After two years the kids can't take it anymore and devise an ad for the singles section of the New York Review of Books - who knew? - hoping to attract some highbrow women to Edward's lonely corner of the world. The letters pile in! Edward begins to make calls, half-heartedly at best, a dinner here, a coffee there, some proferred kisses, some rebukes. And finally a connection! But, is she the right one for Edward? If you have to ask.......

What I love about this novel is the gentle humor, the reality of life as a single person in one's sixties, the truth about sexuality and the doubt that anyone will find our well worn bodies attractive, fear of loneliness yet fear of too much togetherness as well, the pressure from outsiders, the difficulty of trying to go solo in a coupled world. It is all so spot on and so tenderly described.

 Ms. Wolitzer treats us to people we truly care about, (and that doesn't seem to happen in novels too much any more), from yuppie stepson Nick and his wife Amanda, to Julie who wants everyone else to be happy but can't seem to track down that elusive feeling for herself, to Gladys,  Bea's octogenarian mother who holds the wisdom of the ages in her smile.

When I finished An Available Man I simply put it aside and let out a long, satisfied sigh. The perfect book for a long, lazy afternoon on the couch nursing a cold, waiting for the promised rain and the relief from the pollen and humidity, listening to Don chopping and dicing in the kitchen. Here's hoping Edward Schuyler will find what I did!

1 comment:

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