If I were to assume a role of a ‘literary doc’, I could probably claim that each of Anne Tyler’s novels has a power to resolve a specific condition. I could write out prescriptions similar to this one:
Patient: A longtime married woman, 40-sh, (almost) grownup kids.
Condition: Does not feel needed, respected, loved. Wishes she could just take off.
Treatment: Ladder of Years.
I am not going to be that ‘doc.’ Any attempt to categorize Anne Tyler will inevitably fail. Her novels do not specifically target small segments of the audience. Her writing is much too deep for that. You do not have to be a married 40-ish woman with grownup kids to immensely enjoy Ladder of Years. The point is that if you are indeed that woman, there is a good chance you will not merely enjoy the book, but will benefit from it greatly. Anne Tyler addresses a large number of personal issues, and she deals with them so well that at times a page of her writing can do more healing than a professional session with a psychologist.
I remember reading The Amateur Marriage for the first time. I did not feel too happy about my own marriage then. In fact, I felt desperate. I thought it was coming to an end. I picked Anne Tyler’s book, and – though I had long dropped the habit – I went on and checked out the ending. I read the last few pages. To say that I was moved would not be enough. I was transformed. It was all there: love, loss, regret, longing… It was the essence of beauty and profound sadness.
I remember thinking, “This man had what I have, and he lost it. For the rest of his life he is going to long for it, but he will never get it back. I do not want this to happen to me. I will do everything to prevent this from happening to me.” Now, years later, still married, I thank Anne Tyler for reminding me back then that marriage is a labor of love.
So is great writing – work done for the love of it, and for the sake of others. Is it not what our life is all about?
Live for the Love of it,
The Happy Amateur