Anne Tyler: Character Artist

By April 23, 2021June 30th, 2021No Comments

Today I’d like to talk about one of my favorite authors. Anne Tyler lives in Baltimore, Maryland and has been writing for more than sixty years. Yet, I had never heard of her until the day I stumbled across a list of Pulitzer Prize winners. One of them was her novel, Breathing Lessons. I enjoyed it so much that I began checking out her other books. I now own hardback copies of all twenty-three.

In general, Anne Tyler writes about families, in a seemingly effortless way that draws you into their lives and makes you part of them. She has an empathy for people, with all their flaws, peculiarities, needs and frustrations, and she paints her characters with words and dialogue that makes you care about them as though they were your own relatives.

“I’m always confident about my characters,” she told an interviewer for the Iowa Journal of Literary Studies in 1981. “I’m not confident about plots. I always feel very fond of my characters. Before I start anything I spend about a month just thinking about them, and I end up knowing an awful lot about them, much more than I put in the book.”

My favorite Tyler novel is Saint Maybe, the story of a young man who takes on the burden of raising his brother’s children. It’s so packed with endearing characters that I still go back and re-read the book from time to time, just to see how they’re doing. Then there’s Celestial Navigation, featuring one of the most memorable and thoroughly fleshed-out characters I can remember.

Other literary stars such as John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates and Larry McMurtry have written better commentary on Tyler’s works than I’m capable of doing. Almost everyone seems to agree that she is unsurpassed as an observer of marriage and family life.

Anne Tyler has a reputation for reclusiveness, but in recent years she’s been doing interviews to promote her new books. Her latest is Redhead by the Side of the Road. You can find my review and many others on the Goodreads website at https://www.goodreads.com/.

There’s a scene in the movie You’ve Got Mail in which Meg Ryan struggles to decide which of Noel Streatfeild’s “shoe” books to recommend for a child. That’s the way I feel about Anne Tyler’s works. If you haven’t read any of her novels, pick one at random. Learn, as I did, why she is one of the world’s most beloved fiction writers.

Leave a Reply