Monday, December 3, 2012

Morgan's Passing

Anne Tyler
Morgan's Passing

This is part of that set of Four Complete Novels that we last visited in the mid-'60s, with Tyler's first two books.  (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is coming up in '82.)  This is my favorite of her novels so far, and yet I can't say I exactly like the characters.  They are in turns selfish, passive, and irritating. 

Once again, Tyler presents a family of six or seven children (all or mostly female) that is both close-knit and chaotic, living in an old three-story house, a motif that goes back to Ben Joe's family in If Morning Ever Comes.  I suppose there's even a self-referential pun, in that "morgen" means "morning" in German.  But the Morgan that passes here is the eccentric husband/father/grandfather who passes as several different people, from doctor to minister to Leon, the (real) actor husband of Emily, the young woman he falls in love with, impregnates, and runs away with.  So Morgan's wife places an obituary in the paper, feeling that his passing out of her life means that she should treat him as if he's passed away.  (It's a hard book to describe, although more solid than Housekeeping of course.)

There are other minor motifs that echo earlier books, like photography and lost loves.  I think the main theme of the novel is that people often prefer fantasy to reality, and that's sometimes bad, as when Morgan's sister Brindle marries her lost love and finds that he prefers her photograph to her presence, and sometimes OK, as with the puppet shows that Leon and Emily put on.  Emily is an artist, like Jeremy in Celestial Navigation and some of Tyler's other characters, but she does try to cope with the world.  She and Morgan have to cope with the differences between their images of each other (especially his of her) vs. reality.  There's also a lot here about play-acting, not just Morgan's disguises and the puppets, and I think that's what I like best about the novel.  Also, even when I don't quite like the characters, they're interesting to watch.  And maybe that has to do with make-believe vs. reality, too.

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