The second book in my Reading Anne Tyler in 2021 project. If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. 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.

Like “If Morning Ever Comes,” I bought this in April 2000 and read it in the May and like that one, I recalled absolutely nothing of this book upon re-reading it!

The cover makes more sense than the last one but isn’t hugely interesting, so enjoy my pile (not including the newest one, arriving this April 1st apparently!).

Anne Tyler – “The Tin Can Tree”

(11 April 2000)

This is another novel of small-town North Carolina, and another book with a small cast of characters observed over a few days around an upheaval in their lives.

Opening at a funeral, with the central character stumbling home down a hill, the book is set in a three-family home (I suppose like a small terrace, three separate families in a row but they can all hear each other practically breathe) on the outskirts of Larksville, the kind of town where people leave and then only ever come home for Christmas:

Whoever built their house must have been counting on Larksville’s becoming a city someday, but Larksville was getting smaller every year. (p. 8)

so the house is a way away from the town and the three families are thrown upon their own and each other’s resources, while you get the sense of the weeds and farmland encroaching on all sides.

The funeral is that of Janie Rose, the youngest inhabitant of the houses, and it’s a finely drawn portrait of the reactions and process of grief of all the characters. We mainly take the viewpoint of James, who cares for his brother Ansel, also in his 20s but seemingly an invalid by choice (he’s anaemic but won’t have his injections). At some point in the past they ran away from home, perhaps suddenly, with a family rift that’s not talked about, and running away is the other theme of the book alongside grief. The elderly sisters in their cluttered home in the middle of the row are perhaps a warning to James and Ansel of how they might get set in for life. James is rather trapped – he likes Joan, the niece of the other family, the Pikes, trying to work through their grief and keep the house going, but he can’t make Joan and Ansel like each other.

James does escape to do his photography as a job and hobby, but once again there’s a gap between the photos he wants to take and the ones he ends up taking. There are deep themes here below the surface.

There’s a brief almost reconciliation, two almost escapes and a joyful gathering at the end, but will everything settle back into its dusty patterns when they all return to their own houses?

I found a lot to enjoy in this quiet and absorbing novel, with such tight observation again.

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!