This is a wonderful, quiet but powerful book, with very rich characterization and an interesting structure. It uses a condensed "day-in-the-life" timeline divided into three parts. The first part is the drive to the funeral that Maggie and Ira attend told from Maggie's POV; the second part the drive home told from Ira's; the third part the coming together of themes and events that occur along the way.
I esp. enjoyed how Tyler explores the approach-avoid/love-hate terrain of relationships, where patterns of behaviour and personality quirks are both minor annoyances that are overcome and add strength to the marriage, or fodder for misunderstandings that turn into irreconcilable rifts and split people apart.
The two marriages under scrutiny--Maggie's and Ira's mature and solidified; their son Jesse's and daughter-in-law Fiona's immature and currently broken--play off of each other illuminating both character and theme.
The "lessons" are in the details, choices and the slow unfolding of events, past present and future, along the way. The journey is as laconic and meandering as the late summer drive--a metaphor for marriage itself. A secondary theme is identity, and here too, there is exquisite poignancy in the revelation of each character's search for self-definition and the conclusions drawn. They search, too, for clarity and insight into what they mean to each other, what their marriage stands for and how the marriage has shaped their 'selves'.
Tyler has a unique talent for seamlessly weaving dialogue, characterization and theme together. She creates characters at once idiosyncratic and eccentric, but symbolic of our common humanity, too. It is a careful balancing act that, now that I've dipped back into her œuvre
, I remember as emblematic of her writing. It has inspired me to read more of hers, and although I'm pretty sure The Accidental Tourist and this one, which one the Pulitzer, are Tyler in top form, I bet there are some less-well-known gems in there too.