Book number three in my Reading Anne Tyler in 2021 project is here already! 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.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

I am convinced that my first copy of this book came free on the front of a magazine but I can’t find a note of that one in my reading journal index: I know that I bought the copy I read this week in the UK on 20 July 2002 and read it in October that year. Interestingly, having poked around in my index, I see that I read many of her books in the late 90s, so I wonder what chance I have of remembering them! I’m enjoying coming to all of these like new books, though, and at least I am still enjoying her work!

Anne Tyler – “A Slipping-Down Life”

(20 July 2002)

We’re still in North Carolina and in a small town, maybe a little bigger than the one in “The Tin Can Tree” and certainly living more centrally at first. I remembered that this was about a small-town rock star and the girls who carves his name onto herself, but I’d assumed the slipping-down life is hers and it turns out to be his. I’d also forgotten all the detail and other characters.

I really like how Tyler picks up ordinary characters, angular and bony or, here, awkward, pudgy and unfocused – until she has to be – with constantly slipping straps and waistbands which I’m sure she carries on with in later works. I also like the side characters – especially here unashamedly fat and colourful Violet, who likes to organise things and is a good friend to Evie (the good friend). I also liked Clotelia, Evie and her father’s housekeeper, who is nicely and affectionately observed – at one point thanks to her own boyfriend, she starts to define herself as Black and grow out her hair into an Afro, but she’s her own person and sticks with the family when told to leave her job. She’s also awkward and, unlike her mother, who’s a professional mourner, doesn’t provide a warm hug when things go wrong, and I like that about her.

The book has its funny moments, especially early on when Drumstrings Casey unenthusiastically does a radio interview with an equally unenthusiastic DJ. But it’s also poignant, of course, with Tyler catching tiny shifts in relationships and drawing them finely:

He never apologised. For several days he treated her very gently, helping her with the dishes and listening with extreme, watchful stillness whenever she spoke to him. It was the most he could do, Evie figured. (p. 131)

So the boy lets fate decide his life but takes an interest in home-making (and I loved the details of how they set up home, more of Tyler’s absorbing domestic details) and it’s Evie who claims her own agency, getting a job at the library, doing “Something out of character. Definite. Not covered by insurance” (p. 27) and finally …

Evie felt something pulled out of her that he had drawn, like a hard deep string, but she squared her corners as if she were a stash of library cards. (p. 152)

Like in “Tin Can Tree” and its three households, Evie has created her own family around her; like in “If Morning Ever Comes” we see one decision that changes everything and a hasty wedding, but this time view the aftermath, too. It’s a small book but a beautifully drawn and affecting one, as we watch a young woman find a meaning in life and creating something out of not very much.

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!