Book #51 "Noah's Compass" by Anne Tyler
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
After a divorced, 60'ish fifth-grade teacher is fired, he decides to try out retirement setting out to move into "the final phase of his life". What follows is nothing that he planned: he is attacked, wakes up in a hospital and begins a mad search for the missing memory of what happened. During this memory jogging search, his teen-aged daughter moves in, he meets a much younger woman, as he keeps attempting to settle into retirement.
Tyler is famous for writing about the menial events occurring in the lives of understated characters. "Noah's Compass" is no exception. What is fascinating is that she has perfected the art of observing these events, which could and often do happen to many of us, and portrays them with a surgeon's skill. Much like a reality show, she entertains as she subtly rolls the camera seamlessly from one everyday scene to the next producing the quiet, authentic and often ugly truth of everyday people.
As Liam, the narrator of the book, reads to his grandson about Bible characters from his coloring book, he thinks of Noah as a ship captain who is aimlessly floating out to sea, heading nowhere. But actually, Noah was given a specific purpose, to save lives in a time of crisis. Liam sees himself as detached and without purpose. He accepts this. Meanwhile, every other character in the book, his daughters, his ex-wife, his girlfriend, tend to give him the role of captain. His stunted perception of life, his unapologetic way of accommodating his character flaws makes this a realistic account of contemporary choices of people in society today.
Though Tyler may address the common man, she uncommonly keeps her characters in my mind long after the story is finished. Other books I have enjoyed by her include "Breathing Lessons", "Back When We Were Grown-ups", and "Saint Maybe".