Monday, October 22, 2012

Earthly Possessions

1977, 1997 Vintage edition
Anne Tyler
Earthly Possessions
Original price unknown, purchase price 79 cents
Worn paperback

This is the first of the Tyler novels I own that is entirely in first person, which is part of its appeal.  Charlotte Emory tells of her strange but quiet life, as "surprise" daughter of the fattest woman in town, as agnostic wife of a preacher, as "temporary" photographer for over 15 years, and as kidnap victim.  The title refers to her wish to rid herself of all belongings, so she can finally run away, but her experiences on the run with a bank robber, and eventually his pregnant teenaged girlfriend, help her appreciate her life.  She's not exactly a sympathetic character, particularly when she tries to be indifferent to her own children, but I find her entertaining.  The book ties with The Clock Winder as Tyler's best so far.

There are echoes of earlier books, as with the wife who manages a sprawling household of relatives and strangers, and the man who likes to make miniatures, both echoing Celestial Navigation, but I felt they were better done here, and even the mismatched spouses (recalling not only Celestial but Slipping-Down) didn't bother me as much as in the past, since the focus isn't really on the marriage anyway.  What I liked least was the character of Jake, the bank robber.  When he tries to show that he's not such a bad guy, he comes across as even more of a jerk, and I can't tell whether or not this is deliberate.  I kept being annoyed when Charlotte would stop telling us her past and go back to relating the story of life on the run.

There's a line on the last page about why Charlotte tells her husband she no longer wants a vacation:  "We have been traveling for years, traveled all our lives, we are traveling still."  Her point is that life is a journey, even if you stay in the same physical place.  This contradicts the message of Celestial Navigation, where being afraid to leave the house is related to being afraid of change.  And it'll be interesting to see how this compares to the image of travel in The Accidental Tourist.  But before we get to that in 1985, I've got a couple other Tyler novels to review....

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