I've read a plethora of novels. An exorbitance. An extravagance. A superfluity. But never enough.
A few favorites, off the top of my head: The Magus; Evening; Franny and Zooey; Narcissus and Goldman; Siddhartha; Animal Dreams; Cat's Cradle; Falling in Place; To the Lighthouse; Love Medicine; Dad; Birdy; Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man; The Idiot; Catch-22; The Awakening; One Hundred Years of Solitude; At Play in the Fields of the Lord; Ironweed; Of Time and the River; The Sound and the Fury; Candide; Sophie's Choice; The Sun Also Rises; The Stranger; Zorba the Greek; The English Patient; The Unbearable Lightness of Being; American Purgatorio; Out Stealing Horses.
I can't choose a favorite; they were all spectacular and made my life a little brighter, shining language and thought and new ways of living into the dimmer regions of being.
I just finished Anne Tyler's latest: Noah's Compass. I've read all of Tyler's novels, and I especially loved, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant; Breathing Lessons; Accidental Tourist; Saint Maybe; and Ladder of Years.
Noah's Compass is a conundrum. It bored me, and yet I kept reading, not out of some sense of literary duty, but because Tyler kept reeling me in. I wanted to turn those pages. I looked forward to coming home from work or play and finding out what Liam would do next.
Which wasn't much.
Liam is sixty years old. He was recently "let go" from his teaching position in a middle school. He lives in an apartment near the Beltway in Baltimore and doesn't have a couch. His ex-wife and three daughters think he's a passive, unessential schmuck, and so do I. By the end of the novel, my feelings about Liam hadn't changed.
Or had they?
Before I gave the novel to a friend, I re-read the last fifty pages. The final sentence of the book is so compelling, but I couldn't grasp it entirely. Elusive, and hit me hard. Like a poem with a knock-out punch of a closing line.
However, the novel is uneven. Usually, Tyler's characters are so real, you feel like you grew up with them. This is not the case in Noah's Compass. The central romance is not believable, or could be much more developed.
But I keep thinking about the last sentence.
Although this novel is not her best, Anne Tyler imagined the main character, Liam, perfectly. Liam's flaw is tragic. Ordinary tragic. I guess that's what makes it even more tragic. Liam doesn't know he's afflicted. He does and he doesn't. He is a man who can't remember his own life very well because he can't stand to. His parents are part of this inability to be conscious of what has happened to him and what he has done to others. He worries that he's a "bad" man, but he doesn't do much to try and become a better man. In one scene, Liam sits in a chair in his apartment all day and watches the line of shadow creep across the parking lot to the edge of the lawn. He can't act. He doesn't want to remember because he's afraid. Liam's prison is emotional inertia.
The novel is psychologically frightening. And very subtle. I haven't seen Tyler write this way before.
I'm still thinking and feeling about this novel and will for some time to come.
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