REVIEWED BY IAN DOLBY
Anne Tyler (Chatto: 2015)
Anne Tyler has written an excellent book, based in her present home town of Baltimore. It concerns three generations of a family and the house they own: Junior and Linnie May, their son, Red, and his wife, Abby, and their children, Denny, Amanda, Jeannie and Stem. The only confusing part I found was the choice of calling both husbands Hugh: Amanda’s Hugh and Jeannie’s Hugh. All the characters are well delineated and Tyler has a knack of bringing them to life. By taking mundane family events she allows them to speak to the reader and give each his or her point of view.
Dividing the book into four sections allows each set of characters to tell their own story and slowly the mysterious histories are revealed. The home forms a central character in its own right. Built by Junior, and deviously acquired by him, a lot of time and energy is devoted to make it perfect.
As the story progresses, the mystery of Junior and Linnie May’s marriage is revealed. Junior's wife, Linnie May, is proved not to be the pushover her husband seems to expect. Part three reveals their surprising courtship.
The female characters are all strong in different ways. Linnie May is quietly asserting her authority. Abby shows her strong love for her sons, Denny and Stem, despite Red’s complacency. Daughters Amanda and Jeannie, and Red's sister, Merrick, all show different levels of willpower and how they wield it. Stem's wife meanwhile serenely floats through each scene but, even then, manages to upset Abby by undermining her in the domestic setting.
I enjoyed this book as it kept a good pace and allowed people such as Denny, taciturn and mysterious regarding his career and relationships, to show their point of view. Abby, his mother, also shows her personal demons convincingly. All characters are utterly believable and the interactions and dialogue very relatable, for instance Abby’s confusion over her mental health, and the challenges she has between loving and understanding a difficult child. Red’s challenge to his authoritarian father, by using diplomacy and compassion when dealing with a difficult neighbour, is one scene I especially enjoyed.
An interesting and captivating book and worth the reading experience.