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Breathing Lessons (1988)
Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) (1989)
I quite enjoyed Anne Tyler's book The Accidental Tourist, with it's quirky characters and the wry, almost satirical, narrative voice. And I don't wish to leave the impression that I did not like Breathing Lessons; I just that thought it was a much less ambitious undertaking and, even at that, was less successful. Where Accidental Tourist was about the effort of an extremely self-contained man to reach beyond himself and reconnect with people, the characters in Breathing Lessons, mainly the married couple Maggie and Ira Moran who drive to a friend's funeral and back, end the novel in the same position that they begin it; ultimately, for all it's motoring about, it's a pretty static story. Meanwhile, where the oddball characters of Tourist served some purpose in the plot by drawing out the central character, here they merely seem to be odd for odd's sake. The end result is that the book has a formulaic feel to it, admittedly it is a pleasant enough formula, but it is kind of disappointing.
There are some touches that I really liked: the set pieces are quite funny (Maggie's driving and some of the funeral) and the way Maggie identifies the uncommunicative Ira's moods by what song he is whistling is especially endearing. Tyler writes with an obvious love for her kooky middle class subjects and she is often able to summon our empathy for them. But by the end of this book I was pretty tired of Maggie and wanted out.
I find it awfully hard to believe that there were not some more worthy contenders for the Pulitzer Prize. I'd suggest you try Tyler's The Accidental Tourist instead. It was actually prize worthy.
-Anne Tyler (1941-)(brief bio, biblio)
-Readers Guide: Anne Tyler (Vintage Books)
-Reading Contract Home Page--celebrating five novels of Anne Tyler
-Anne Tyler (BookWire)
-Readers' Choice: Anne Tyler Bookshelf
-REVIEW: of Breathing Lessons Anne Tyler's Couple on a Journey (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
-REVIEW: BREATHING LESSONS ABOUT MAGGIE, WHO TRIED TOO HARD (Edward Hoagland, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Breathing Lessons Roughing It (ROBERT TOWERS, NY Review of Books)
-REVIEW: of The Accidental Tourist Southern Comfort (Diane Johnson, NY Review of Books)
-REVIEW: of Morgan's Passing (James Wolcott, NY Review of Books)
-REVIEW: of Earthly Possessions (Roger Sale, NY Review of Books)
-chapter one: of A PATCHWORK PLANET By ANNE TYLER