Books

An Introduction to Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Anne Tyler

Photo © Viking Canada 2018

When a book critic once unfavorably compared the writer Anne Tyler’s “milk and cookies” style to the more abrasive, pessimistic view of novelists like Philip Roth, Tyler embraced the comparison almost as a compliment. “I would say piss and vinegar for Roth and for me, milk and cookies. I can’t deny it.” For decades, readers have found the comfort and wisdom to be found in Tyler’s novels undeniable as well — and irresistible. The writer, who lives and works in the Baltimore that is the setting for much of her work, leavens the sweetness of her stories with characters who are wry, complicated, and just the right degree of sour. Her plots deftly combine the utterly mundane with moments of extraordinary drama and grace, leaving readers feeling sated and satisfied.

Clock Dance, released on July 10th this year, is Anne Tyler’s 22nd novel, and fans of her earlier works will be as delighted with this book as with any of her past novels. For those unfamiliar with Tyler, and perhaps daunted as to where to begin, here’s a list of some of the best.

  • The cover of the book Clock Dance

    Clock Dance

    A novel

    Anne Tyler’s latest novel, Clock Dance, opens with a mother failing to return home. “Maybe she had left intending to come right back, but then had wrecked the car,” her older daughter, Willa, thinks. “She might be lying in the hospital unconscious.” This opening suggests a mystery, a harrowing tragedy – the day Willa’s mother disappeared and everything changed forever. But this is an Anne Tyler novel, where harrowing tragedies are interwoven with the banalities of daily life, and the greatest mysteries are the failings and generosities of the human heart. In fact, Willa’s mother returns the next morning, asking for breakfast orders “and the world was back to how it should be.” Everything does change for Willa, but slowly, gently, and over the course of her entire life contained in Tyler’s affecting novel.

     
  • The cover of the book Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

    Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

    A Novel

    Many writers would be thrilled to publish nine novels in their lifetime, but Tyler reportedly was dissatisfied with her first four efforts, and considers this book, her ninth, her favorite. Tracing the effects of a father’s abandonment on the three children and the wife he left behind, the book is set in Baltimore, Tyler’s adopted home town and the setting for many novels to come. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

     
  • The cover of the book The Accidental Tourist

    The Accidental Tourist

    A Novel

    In this hilarious yet deeply sad novel, Tyler introduces one of her signature character types – a man who’d given most any offer, will politely decline. A difficult trait for a travel writer, but the protagonist of this book has made an art of making travel as similar to staying home as possible. Then he meets his exact opposite, an irrepressible dog trainer, and finds himself embarking on an adventure of the heart. The book was also made into an Academy Award-winning movie.

     
  • The cover of the book Breathing Lessons

    Breathing Lessons

    A Novel

    Tyler’s 11th novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. While many of her novels span a lifetime, or several lifetimes, this book takes place over the course of a single day, as a long-married couple travel to a funeral and back. Along the way they take detours, get on each other’s nerves, and reflect on the history and future of their marriage. As with many of the writer’s other odd-but-good couples, Ira and Maggie are a study in opposites, and Maggie’s enforced optimism looks a lot like meddling to her more taciturn husband. But over the course of their journey together – to the funeral, and also through life – they come to appreciate each other’s approach to living a life that has meaning and joy.

     
  • The cover of the book A Spool of Blue Thread

    A Spool of Blue Thread

    A Novel

    Shortlisted for the Man Booker Award, this novel traces the story of one Baltimore family from the 1920s to present day. At the heart of the family are Abby and Red, whose seemingly ordinary, solid, and admirable marriage conceals extraordinary facets they hide from the world, and sometimes themselves. As with Tyler’s previous novels, this story blends high drama with the sheer ordinariness of life as it is really lived, and change that happens so slowly as to be imperceptible to the eye, yet seismic.

     
  • The cover of the book Vinegar Girl

    Vinegar Girl

    A Novel

    As part of Hogarth Shakespeare series of contemporary authors updating Shakespeare’s plays, Tyler revisits The Taming of the Shrew. Here, Kate is transformed into a classic Tyler character – a funny, intelligent, yet hopelessly stuck woman wondering how to get herself out of the mess her life’s become. Kate is certainly unconventional, but is she a shrew? Her father thinks yes, and enlists Kate in a plan to keep his illegal immigrant lab assistant in the country. Tyler omits the more outrageous plot twists and focuses on the main characters in Shakespeare’s war of the sexes – adding contemporary insights while hewing to the timeless theme of unlikely love.