Read by Kimberly Farr
Published February 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
Publisher’s Summary: “It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . . . ” This is how Abby Whitshank always describes the day she fell in love with Red in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate an indefinable kind of specialness, but like all families, their stories reveal only part of the picture: Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red’s parents, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to the grandchildren carrying the Whitshank legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn house that has always been their anchor.
My Thoughts: Once upon a time I read and loved Anne Tyler’s work. And then, for reasons I don’t recall, I stopped reading her books. Perhaps because her work almost always centered around families and I hadn’t quite reached the point in my life where that kind of book resonated with me. But they do now and I’ve been wanting to get back to Tyler for a while. But you know, shiny new books come out faster than I can read them and once they’re not shiny and new, I kind of forget about getting to them, so it took me five years to finally pick this one up.
I was delighted to find that Tyler’s writing has not lost a beat. She still creates marvelous characters, interesting family dynamics, and so many passages that spoke to me. In fact, I think I'll let Tyler writing speak for itself. She has these things to say about being a mother:
“You wake in the morning, you’re feeling fin, but all at once you think, “Something’s not right. Something’s off somewhere; what is it?” And then you remember that it’s your child – whichever one is unhappy.”
“You know how you just have to touch your child, sometimes? How you drink him in with your eyes and you could stare at him for hours and you marvel at how dear and impossibly perfect he is?”
“She loved them so much that she felt a kind of hollowness on the inner surface of her arms whenever she looked at them – an ache of longing to pull them close and hold them tight against her.”
“One thing that parents of problem children never said aloud: it was a relief when the children turned out okay, but then what were the parents supposed to do with the anger they’d felt all those years.”
“It came to her so clearly now: the stiff-armed reach out to her side with her palm facing backward, the confident expectation of some trusting little hand grabbing hers.”
Tyler has this to say about growing older:
“It makes you wonder why we bother accumulating, accumulating, when we know from earliest childhood how it’s all going to end.”
“She had always assumed that when she was old, she would have total confidence, finally. But look at her: still uncertain. In many ways she was more uncertain now than she had been as a girl.”
“For years, she had been in mourning for the way she had let her life slip through her fingers. Given another chance, she’d told herself, she would take more care to experience it. But lately, she was finding that she had experienced it after all and just forgotten, and now it was returning to her.”
“To my earlier self I would like to say, “Relax. The story will come in due time. Trust your characters. Let them tell you what happens next.”
This book was nominated for the Man Booker prize but I’m not sure why. Yes, I enjoyed the book – Tyler’s writing and her characters and her way of exploring family dynamics and secrets. But as she moves back and forth in time, she took me out of what I had understood to be the story and I felt like I was reading another book and I was left without the resolution I wanted. Despite all of those lovely quotes and Tyler’ ability to tell a story, it just didn’t feel like it could have been one of the best books of 2015. For me, it’s not a five-star read. But then, there’s nothing wrong with a really lovely three-star book.