Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Anne Tyler: New author - new danger

Anne Tyler was new to me. Glad to try her, but it also left me feeling rather rudderless. I had no idea how she as an author tended to behave. I didn't know if the story was a farce, a tragedy or gritty documentary drama. Having read most of it I still didn't know how she might end it. I hadn't realised how much I relax into knowing the genre of the work I'm watching/reading. While I'm hopeless at predicting what will happen, I generally have a rough idea of the sort of things that will/not. Watching Volver was similarly confusing because it was Spanish and by Almodovar, and I had no ideas of his normal parameters. That worked very well in the film, but it was still quite a switchback ride.

In the end, of course, Tyler's ending was in keeping with her novel, which seems fair. Humour, pathos, farce, disappointment and coping. I found the characters irritating - self-absorbed or unassertive - but ultimately the novel was a comedy of manners rather than a tragedy. Even though the actual events and situations could well have been handled as tragedy they weren't, which made them easier to accept. If Rebecca can accept them (the door shutting with finality behind her - brilliant Val, I hadn't noticed that) and end up choosing them over her alternatives, the reader is minded to go along with her. And yes, you're right - she didn't for a moment imagine joining Will's world. Who could? He didn't have a hinterland. Surely that was material for tragedy, but he was shuffled out before we dwelt too long on his life. It is her lucky escape which we are meant to experience, I think.

Does she end up married to Zeb, do you think? Valerie noticed the lack of sexual charge, and Rebecca seems oblivious to a bond between them, but then again she's not very sharp, is she? Zeb, after all, planted a kiss on her head and the very next sentence reads: "There were still so many happenings still to be hoped for in her life". What do you think?

Tyler is clever, isn't she? Very observational herself, and informing the reader while Rebecca remains largely clueless. I mean, is it just me or is it likely Joe at some level wanted to kill himself? It doesn't seem to occur to Rebecca.

I think Val's spot on with her thoughts about nets that support or entrap. Rebecca does seem to choose the Open Arms, so I guess she's happier finding herself in that -needed but largely unappreciated - than going and doing something else. Rebecca certainly needs to nuture. As Valerie points out, Peter seems to be one of the few appreciative or promsing elements in her life. Rebecca lets things like that motivate her, rather than being overwhelmed by her arguably bigger problem of wall-to-wall family dysfunction. Attitude over circumstances?! I'm reminded of T S Eliot: "Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something upon which to rejoice".