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Posts Tagged ‘Anne Tyler’

Hopefully, the Anne Tyler fans among you will have spotted Liz’s brilliant yearlong chronological read of all of Anne Tyler’s novels. I have probably read about half her novels – and none of them for years so I am planning on joining in with a few reads over the course of 2021 although I cannot commit to all of them or even to every month. If Morning Ever Comes was Anne Tyler’s debut novel and is one of just a few of her books I believe not to be set in the Baltimore area. Instead, we are in North Carolina – and briefly New York – having read this right after finishing Where the Crawdads Sing it seems I just cannot get away from North Carolina.

I have read online that Anne Tyler has tried to distance herself from this novel – which I think is a shame. While it may not be her greatest work, it was her debut after all, it is a really good novel I think. I certainly found it to be very enjoyable. She portrays a family well – which is something I associate Anne Tyler with doing generally, the atmosphere of this small community in the 1960s is also well presented, it is a world that has changed little over the generations a world people leave and return to almost as if they didn’t quite mean to.

“Seems like you are always loving the people that fly away from you, Ben Joe, and flying away from the people that love you.

The novel concerns Ben Joe Hawks, a young man who has left North Carolina and his large female dominated family to attend college in New York. Having arrived in August, by November the reality of a New York winter has set in, he is anxious about his family, homesick and not really enjoying or fully embracing the experience of college.

“…he didn’t like Columbia. On campus the wind up from the river cut clean through him no matter what he wore, and his classmates were all quick and sleek and left him nothing to say to them. They looked like the men who modelled Italian wool jackets in men’s magazines; he plodded along beside them, thin and shivering, and tried to think about warm things. Nor did he like law; it was all memory work.”

Hiding away in the apartment he shares, reading mystery novels and trying to keep warm it feels as if Ben Joe is just looking for an excuse to go home. It soon comes, in the shape of news from home. One of his sisters, Joanne has returned abruptly after seven years away, apparently having left her husband and with her young child in tow. Ben Joe wastes little time and is soon on a train heading home to Sandhill, North Carolina and his mother and sisters.

“When he was settled back in his seat, Ben Joe leaned his head against the windowpane and closed his eyes, trying to ignore the vibration of the pane against his skin. He wished he knew what state they were passing through. The last of New Jersey, maybe. He felt unsure of his age; in New York he was small and free and too young, and in Sandhill he was old and tied down and enormous, but what age was he here?”

So, Ben Joe arrives home, he is the only boy in a family of six sisters, then there is his mother and her mother-in-law Gram. Ben Joe seeks to be reassured about objects he left behind, that the financial arrangements he left one sister in charge of, are working out alright. Ben Joe is a little awkward – especially with women, he needs reassurance that things are ok, that everything is as it was, that those things which need to be organised have been. He feels a responsibility to his family and his ties to them are strong.

The family dynamic is particularly well portrayed. Ben Joes mother comes across quite coldly she seems held at a distance and we never really get to know her well. Gram is fabulous character, she and her daughter-in-law locked in a small, years old feud. Ben Joe is almost shy of Joanne after all the time she has been away, surprised by his little niece and her shock of red hair. Ben Joe is quite conservative, easily worried or shocked, he starts to question the behaviour of this married sister when she starts going out in the evening.

Within this family the past is everywhere. In time we hear about Ben Joe’s father – and how he died and what had led up to that. The anger and hurt surrounding these events still linger. On the train from New York Ben Joe had met an old man heading back to Sandhill after many years away, he was a childhood friend of his grandmother’s and the two decide to visit him in the care home he has come to live in. A girl Ben Joe dated in high school has also returned after a few years living away, he decides to pay her a visit too.

Soon it’s time for Ben Joe to return to New York, to take up his studies again and leave his mother and his sisters again. In the time he is at home Ben Joe seeks to reconcile his past with his present – and by the time he leaves for New York there is just the merest suggestion of what the future might hold for this young man.

“…all this still, unchanging world of women – would stay the same while he rushed on through darkness across the garishly lit industrial plains of New Jersey and into the early-morning stillness of New York. He leaned forward, resting his chin on his hand, and stared at the floor. “Every place I go,” he said, “I miss another place.”

Reading this novel after such a long break from Anne Tyler has certainly whetted my appetite for more. I love her quirky characters and her subtlety, her quiet storytelling. If Morning Ever Comes is even more impressive when we consider she was just twenty-two when she wrote it.

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