Friday, May 10, 2013

Breathing Lessons

1988, 1989 Berkley [sic] edition
Anne Tyler
Breathing Lessons
Possibly bought newish for $5.50
Very worn paperback

I found this equal to Accidental Tourist, which it resembles a bit.  Again, we have a long-standing marriage, almost thirty years in this case, but it's closer to the relationship between Macon and Muriel than to that of Macon and Sarah.  A reserved man and a "scatter-brained" woman, although Maggie believes that if she had married someone less sensible than Ira, she would've become more sensible.  I believe this to some extent, because I can see how I sometimes will try to "balance" out my partner.  I don't feel like I've changed all that much since my marriage, although I've grown up a bit in the last 19 years, but because he was the sensible one, he thought of me as a bit scattered, and now that I'm with someone who's less practical, he thinks of me as sensible.

Like other Tyler books, this novel is about what makes relationships work, or sometimes not work.  E. M. Forster wrote, "Only connect!", but he knew as well as Tyler how difficult that can be sometimes.  Maggie's son Jesse, who's like a nicer version of the rocker in Slipping-Down Life, was unable to sustain his teenaged marriage to Fiona.  Maggie is a meddler, wanting to fix things but making them worse.  Ira sometimes cleans up her messes and sometimes makes them worse yet by blurting out the truth.  Yet we also see why Maggie and Ira got together, and why they stay together.  Maggie's friend Serena and her recently deceased husband Max were also "opposites" who were right for each other.

The book covers just one day in their lives, although there are a lot of flashbacks.  The traveling theme returns, although here it's just a road trip with side trips.  ("Like life," you're supposed to think.)  On the way to the funeral, Maggie lies to a bad driver and then feels guilty about it when she realizes he's old and black.  She tries to make amends, but yes, it only makes a bigger mess. 

I promised way back on Clock Winder that I would discuss Tyler and race.  Mr. Otis is her first significant black character in awhile, and to some degree he's a stereotype, in the way he talks and acts, and his wife Duluth sounds stereotypically superstitious for being mad at him for something he did in one of her dreams.  But I think Tyler fleshes out Mr. Otis, and his nephew, at least as much as she does the white waitress whose shoulder Maggie figuratively cries on.  On the other hand, there are two hospital workers who seem black and are less nuanced.  (They reminded me of the maybe-racism of 1987's Nice Girls Don't Explode, which I'll discuss when I have a movie blog someday.)  On the other hand, Ira is one-eighth Native American and neither he nor his father seem to fit any stereotypes except maybe stoicism.

The title, by the way, has to do with Fiona's lessons while pregnant.  Breathing should be easy and automatic, but like so much in life, it isn't always.  This is the tenth Tyler novel for the project, and one I've read more than most.  I enjoyed the 1994 Hallmark TV adaptation, with Joanne Woodward and James Garner, although I haven't seen it since it originally aired.  Next Tyler, Saint Maybe in 1991....

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