The first book in my Reading Anne Tyler in 2021 project and welcome to anyone who is reading along with me, catching up or finding this ages after. Please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads. All the reviews I am alerted to will be added to the project page when I can, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

My copy of this one was bought in April 2000 and read in May of that year (you can tell this is pre- me meeting my husband, as the gap between acquisition and reading gradually widened when I started seeing him to its current 12-13 months, where it has remained for many years now!). I recalled nothing of this book upon re-reading it.

It’s got a weird cover image of Edwardian ladies with parasols which left me confused until I was almost the whole way through the book; I still don’t really feel it’s representative of the book! It’s an American edition which I amassed when I was busy collecting her, having read my first one in 1997, but I’m not sure where I acquired it from now. Which edition did you read?

Anne Tyler – “If Morning Ever Comes”

(11 April 2000)

Although it is maybe a little patchy and uneven in places, this first novel is full of Anne Tyler’s later work, a sort of Overture (as indeed I remember Iris Murdoch’s “Under the Net” being when I read that as part of my re-read of her novels). It’s quiet, it features a quirky main character who has trouble fitting into the world, and most importantly centres on a family that doesn’t talk about anything:

All I’m trying to do is stop one more of those amazing damned things that go on in this family and everyone takes for granted, pretends things are still all right and the world’s still right-side up. The most amazing things go on in this family, the most amazing things, that no one else would allow, and this family just keeps on- (p. 190)

… at which point the speaker is, of course, cut off and silenced.

People do things almost by accident, in a dream, coming back from college for an unspecified amount of time, getting married, carrying on a probably inappropriate family tradition. Most of the actual action takes place off-camera, and I recall that being a common AT feature – even when a husband comes home to collect his errant wife, our point-of-view character takes himself off and has to rely on reportage the next day. Some pivotal scenes are described directly, but they’re a side-scene to the main event (I’m thinking of the bagpiper at the time of the father of the family’s death here). It’s an effective way, if a slightly odd way, of doing things, showing how families and communities absorb events, perhaps.

Ben Joe is one of our classic male AT characters, awkward, not great with the girls, liking things to be arranged. His mother seems cold and distanced and as if she doesn’t care what happens in her marriage, and the rather marvellous Gram livens things up with her odd cooking, age-old bickering rows with her daughter-in-law and hilarious one-upmanship over grandchildren that flourishes in one scene that’s also a touching portrayal of the grandparent/grandchild relationship. People lose relatives somewhat haphazardly and Iris Murdoch might say contingency is everywhere in accidental encounters and links. And the language reads pure Anne Tyler somehow – when Ben Joe is reading all the bits of the paper really early on, we get this passage, which I think would fit into any of her novels:

He yawned and then set to picking out a ring set, ending with a large, oddly shaped diamond and a wedding band that was fine except for a line of dots at each edge that bothered him. (p. 10)

I loved all the detail, the community that remembers far back and changes (though in a different location from other books) and accepts eccentric families, incursions of strangers and their different ways of speaking and being, the details of Ben Joe’s sisters’ personalities being shown up and maintained through their lives in how they do their hair or deal with standing up suddenly while holding a needle. It’s a very domestic book in some ways, placing importance on how a family exists in a house and how the members take that with them if they ever leave.

That weird cover picture comes from one passage where Ben Joe talks about imagining his family, further back in time than they actually are, waiting for him. I still don’t think it’s that representative, but there you go! I thoroughly enjoyed this quiet novel, reading with a mounting feeling of anxiety for Ben Joe’s studies and future that is only partly resolved. I would have liked to know more of the lives of the Black families from the train, but this was a first novel published when the author was 22 and very good in those circumstances.

Do let me know if you’ve read along, joined me for this one or any others at any time, or come to this later and have thoughts on it. All comments welcome at whatever time, no pressure! Do visit the project page to see how it’s all going!