Book Review: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Breathing Lessons
Anne Tyler

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I’m on the wait list at the library to read French Braid by Anne Tyler and in the meantime I borrowed one of Tyler’s earlier books, Breathing Lessons. Published in 1988, this Pulitzer Prize winner is set in Baltimore and Pennsylvania and takes place during one day. It’s a story about marriage, family, disappointments and growing older.

The story begins when Maggie and Ira Moran set off to attend a funeral. Maggie wants to console her best friend, Serena, whose husband has just died, but she has an ulterior motive. Just before they leave, Maggie is sure she’s heard her ex-daughter-in-law, Fiona, announce on a radio show that she’s getting married again, this time for security. Why not swing by Fiona’s place and visit their only granddaughter, Leroy, whom they haven’t seen in years? Maybe Maggie can talk to Fiona and help her reconcile with their son, Jesse.

At this point, readers begin to get an idea of what Maggie is all about. She’s a wild card! Good intentioned, yes, but she has a habit of telling little lies to make people do what they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Maggie and Ira bicker, a lot, but it seems good-natured. They’re a settled, middle-aged couple. But as Tyler fills in the details of their marriage and the relationships between the family, the story becomes more complicated.

We learn about Jesse, who dropped out of high school to form a rock band and his sister, Daisy who will leave for college the next day. And we learn more about Ira and his lost dream of becoming a doctor, instead taking over his father’s framing store. Now he supports his father and his two sisters who live above the store.

Maggie may just be able to pull this one off as long as her little lies don’t catch up with her, as they usually do.

This may sound like a light story and it’s filled with amusing situations, but beneath the surface is a couple that has faced disappointments, separately. Maggie mourns her youth and feels jealous over the “power of the young.” She wonders how she will cope with old age and an empty nest. Ira feels lonely and tired and unsure what to do with his feelings about his children. He’s disappointed in his son and feels like his daughter doesn’t think much of him.

I enjoyed this very readable book because of how Tyler describes real people, full of flaws. The one thing I would say, though, is that it seems a little dated. Maggie and Ira seem so old, but she’s only forty-eight and he’s just turned fifty! Other than that small thing, definitely a great read.

I have read a lot of Anne Tyler’s books and I’ve never been disappointed. You can check them all out here.

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Remembering American author Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019

American author Herman Wouk passed away on May 17, days before his 104th birthday.

Wouk (pronounced “woke”) was an award-winning American author of fiction, non-fiction and plays, and the author of my number one favorite book, Youngblood Hawke. He may be the most famous for The Caine Mutiny, which won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but many readers in my age group will also remember his popular historical novels, also about World War II, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. The first book was made into the very popular 1983 television miniseries starring Robert Mitchum, Ali McGraw, Jan-Michael Vincent, John Houseman and Polly Bergen. Its sequel was released in 1988, with the return of Mitchum and Bergen and added others including Jane Seymour and Sharon Stone. You can check out the sequel’s full cast and crew here.

Another favorite, Marjorie Morningstar, was published in 1955. It’s the story of a nineteen-year-old Jewish girl from New York who dreams of becoming an actress. Warner Brothers made it into a movie in 1958, starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly.

Wouk had a long career. When he celebrated his 100th birthday in May 2015, he announced the January 2016 release of his autobiographical memoir, Sailor and Fiddler – Reflections of a 100-year-Old Author. He said it would be his last book, but his agent reported that he had been working on a new one at the time of his death.

Have you read any books by Herman Wouk? Click here for a full list. Do you have a favorite?

Want more Wouk? Check out these earlier posts on Book Club Mom:

Who’s That Author? Herman Wouk
Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk

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(Click here to read Herman Wouk’s obituary from the May 17 issue of the New York Times.)

What’s up next? All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

all the light we cannot seeAll the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr

I’m very excited to begin reading All the Light We Cannot See. I have been on the library’s waiting list for six months and I finally made it to the top!

In case you missed last week’s Pulitzer Prize announcements, Doerr’s book won this major prize for fiction. To see all the winners and some interesting facts about the award and about Joseph Pulitzer, check out my April 21 blog post, “2015 Pulitzer Prize winners announced.”

Here’s a nice preview of the book from Amazon:

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).`

Click on this link to see what Doerr thinks about winning the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.

And be sure to visit Anthony Doerr’s website and his biography page:

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