Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I needed something to read until the book I *really* want to read arrived in the mail, so I grabbed this old Anne Tyler off the shelf. I used to read Tyler a lot; I loved "The Accidental Tourist", liked "Saint Maybe" and "A Patchwork Planet", found "Celestial Navigation" almost unbearably sad, and had read eight of her novels all told.
Perhaps my tastes have changed, or I simply reached my limit. Maybe what I found endearing twenty-five years ago just annoys me now. In any event, "Breathing Lessons", which won a Pulitzer Prize, just irritated me. For one thing, even bearing in mind that the book came out in 1988, it all seemed more like it took place in the early sixties or something. The main characters, a married couple named Maggie and Ira, seemed OLD. They open the book by traveling to the funeral of Maggie's friend's husband, and the friend basically has everyone re-enact her wedding day by singing a bunch of pre-Elvis pop songs. Yes, at a funeral. I'm telling you, these characters practically trip over themselves in their zeal to be "quirky". For this reason, none of them seemed real to me. They seemed like characters assigned an array of quirky but not very appealing behaviors.
Ira ("Ira"? Really? Is anyone under eighty actually named "Ira"?) is a stock husband character who is designated as the sensible one, and yet he lets his scatterbrained, meddlesome wife Maggie call all the shots while he stands around griping and making faces but doing as he's told all the same. Maggie, for her part, seems to be devoting her life to trying to run and fool with the lives of her son and his ex-wife. She lies, manipulates, denies, exaggerates and pretty much sticks her Pinocchio nose in at every turn, and that's the main action in the novel; Maggie playing bird-brained puppeteer to a crew of characters who don't apparently have the spine to tell her no. She isn't even an interesting anti-hero because she's too silly to be that.
The book did make me chuckle several times, and there were sections where I was drawn in for a few pages, but unless you want to read a novel about a couple of dinosaurs who need an express ticket into the present, and who pretty much just drift from one goofy, contrived mess to another, led by Maggie, who got on my nerves by page three, then skip it.
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