[M]s.Tyler's spare, stripped writing style resembles that of the so-called minimalists...[but] she is unlike them because of the depth of her affections and the utter absence from her work of a fashionable contempt for life.... Ms. Tyler is at the top of her powers.
New York Times -Books of the Century (9/11/98)
In perhaps her most mainstream, accessible novel so far, Tyler spins a tale of marriage and middle-class lives, in an age when social standards and life expectations have gone askew. While she remains a brilliant observer of human nature, there is a subtle change here in Tyler's focus. Where before her protagonists were eccentric, sometimes slightly fantastical characters who came at the end to a sense of peace, if not happiness, Maggie Moran and her husband Ira are average, unexceptional, even somewhat drab; and outside of some small epiphanies, little is changed between them at the story's close. It's this very realism that makes the story so effective and moving. Taking place on one summer day, when Maggie and Ira drive from Baltimore to Pennsylvania to a funeral, with an accidental detour involving an old black man they pass on the road and a side trip to see their former daughter-in-law and their seven-year-old grandchild, the novel reveals the basic incompatibility of their 28-year marriage and the love that binds them together nonetheless. This is another typical Tyler union of opposites: Maggie is impetuous, scatterbrained, klutzy, accident prone and garrulous; Ira is self-contained, precise, dignified, aloof with, however, an irritating (or endearing ) habit of whistling tunes that betray his inner thoughts. Both feel that their children are strangers, that the generations are "sliding downhill,'' and that somehow they have gone wrong in a society whose values they no longer recognize. With irresistibly funny passages you want to read out loud and poignant insights that illuminate the serious business of sharing lives in an unsettling world, this is Tyler's best novel yet.
Every reader knows a couple like the Morans. Maggie is a compassionate flibbertigibbet whose best intentions always backfire. Dour and sensible Ira, "born competent,'' Maggie thinks, "should have married Ann Landers.'' As they drive inexorably (with a few detours) toward the most comical funeral in recent fiction, Ira ponders his wasted life and the traffic. Maggie, meanwhile, is hatching a plot she thinks could reunite their son with his long-estranged wife and child, based on the evidence she has fabricated. Tyler's most entertaining novel yet, a love story in praise of marriage; essential for all fiction collections.
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