Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I just came back from walking to my local bookstore, in penance for reading Noah's Compass on my Kindle. It was so cold it burned my lungs, but my blood was pooling and the sun wasn't about to stay out the whole day. I paid for paper virtue.
Anne Tyler messes with an American reader's expectations, and she messes with mine. There is never a nice ending, if by nice you want to mean some resolution of life's fallings short. But there is somehow a getting at what it means to be alive and limited. Even when her protagonist is, marginally, smarter, simpler, more honest, and more successful than you are but in ways you'd never aspire to.
I guess these reads are about as satisfying to a guy as would be the Soviet follies, if there ever were any. If there were, your wife would be in them, and your place in the audience would be compromised by everybody knowing it was your wife up there and either what do you see in her, or how can you not be cheering. It would mess with your freedom to read, you know?
Because you don't really want your wife up on any stage. Not that way, unless that was her business, and you might want to stay out of the audience then, and trust that she'll come home to you. And you don't really want to read about yourself, just as you are. Why not just stay home, then. Why ever go out at all?
Or you might just remain alone, discretion the better part of valor, even though there is love on offer from a younger woman. Even though you feel that longing, it would mess up someone else's life, which is very much like inviting trouble home to roost. Curl up and read a good book, it's cold outside. The walk will do you good. Huh?
But gradually, that void which you had been obsessed to fill, the one you share with Liam, the protagonist here, whose placid life was disrupted by a new and violent voiding, disappears; and also for the reader, full and satisfied although nothing very much has happened. It was the search for what might have been, in that nothing spot, which filled up all the rest of nothing.
This must be cliche about Anne Tyler's novels, or at least it's how I've felt after each and every one I've read. Which must raise some question about why four stars and not my customary five, which I "reserve" for every book which changes my life, which is, well, just about every book I read.
Could be I'm just not willing to give Liam the upper hand over. You know, unlike Noah, I'm not willing to say I'm going nowhere with nothing important to do. Oh.
Well, some people think that the Kindle will save the planet by saving paper, and some people think that Amazon is just too Walmart big, and some people want to give free speech away to corporations, and I just simply can't afford to read that much on paper. So cut me some slack, and I'll trade you a star.
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