Dysfunctional families inspire Anne Tyler and, thankfully, provide her loyal readers and new fans alike with novels keenly sensitive to this all-too-human condition. Creating characters whose emotional distress may feel familiar, Tyler excels at bringing extraordinary insights to everyday situations.
Perhaps her upbringing had something to do with it. Though born in Minnesota (in October, 1941), Tyler lived in a series of communes throughout the South until she was eleven, a peripatetic and peculiar childhood that Tyler admits contributed to a sense of alienation that would influence her later works. However, her education didn’t suffer. Tyler received a scholarship to Duke University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa at age 19 with a degree in Russian. While working as the Russian bibliographer at Duke University Library, she met her future husband, psychiatrist Taghi Modarressi.
The couple moved to Baltimore in the mid-60s and started their family (daughters Tezh and Mitra). It was during her “stay-at-home mom years” that Tyler began writing her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes (1964), which was followed in 1965 with The Tin Can Tree. Once her children were in school, Tyler turned her attentions toward being a full-time writer, and her 1972 novel, The Clock Winder, would be the first of many novels she’d set in Baltimore.
With her North Carolina roots and novels located in Baltimore, Tyler is often considered to be of the same Southern school of writing that produced such masters as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Eudora Welty. Her work is known for its subtle humor and piquant irony, with characters that manage to be both ordinary and abnormal all at the same time. Tyler never fails to be fascinated with, and inspired by, the resiliency of the human spirit, especially within the context of families who may not always like each other, but eventually, learn how to live together.
In an interview in The Writer (April, 2004), Tyler discussed her fascination with people and their influence on her work. “I view my work as a whole,” she says, “and really what it seems to me I’m doing is populating a town. Pretty soon, it’s going to be just full of lots of people I’ve made up.”
Tyler has won the National Book Critics Circle award for The Accidental Tourist (1985), which was made into the 1988 movie directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred William Hurt and Kathlen Turner; and the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons in 1988.
Maybe John Updike said it best, “This writer is not merely good, she is wickedly good.”
If Morning Ever Comes (1964)
The Tin Can Tree (1965)
The Clock Winder (1972) LP only
Celestial Navigation (1974) LP
Searching for Caleb (1976) LP
Earthly Possessions (1977)
Morgan’s Passing (1980)
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)
The Accidental Tourist (1985) *, **
Breathing Lessons (1988) LP, *, **
Saint Maybe (1991) *
Ladder of Years (1995) LP, *
A Patchwork Planet (1998) LP, *
Back When We Were Grownups (2001) LP, *
The Amateur Marriage (2004) LP, *
LP – Also availble in Large Print
* – Also available on audiocassette
** – Also available on videocassette