Authors: Anne Tyler

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist


Although Anne Tyler’s books have always been popular with general readers, acclaim from critics came more slowly. With Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, however, Tyler’s position in American literature was firmly established. In addition to her many short stories and novels, Tyler is much in demand as a book reviewer. She has achieved her greatest success and recognition as a witty yet serious and compassionate observer of human nature, with a polished style, a strong sense of irony, and an uncanny ability to create memorable characters and to reproduce their speech as if she had actually heard it.{$I[AN]9810000780}{$I[A]Tyler, Anne}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Tyler, Anne}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Tyler, Anne}{$I[tim]1941;Tyler, Anne}

Anne Tyler

(Diana Walker)

Tyler is the only daughter of Lloyd Parry and Phyllis (Mahon) Tyler; there were also four boys in the family, a circumstance that appears in reverse in Tyler’s first novel, If Morning Ever Comes, in which the main character is an only son with six sisters. Tyler denies that her novels are autobiographical. Although she was reared in North Carolina, she does not consider herself a southern writer, despite the repeated statement to that effect on the jackets of most of her books. Nor does she consider herself a feminist writer; she is more interested in people than in movements.

Tyler graduated from Duke University in 1961, having begun college at the age of sixteen. A course on the short story taught by the writer Reynolds Price had a great impact on her, though not on her style. After doing graduate study in Russian at Columbia University, she married Taghi Modarressi, a psychiatrist, in 1963, and the couple had two daughters, Tezh and Mitra.

A longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland, Tyler has set most of her novels in various parts of that city. She has used other locations only briefly and secondarily, including small towns in North Carolina and Pennsylvania and such cities as New York, New Orleans, and Paris. She once said that what she was doing in her novels was populating a town–not with people she knew, but with people about whom she had written. Such comments are rare, however, as Tyler shuns publicity, does not give readings, and almost never grants interviews.

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986, The Accidental Tourist was filmed in 1987; the film also won awards, though the reviews were mixed. Critics responded to Tyler’s next book, Breathing Lessons, in much the same way; while the book remained on best-seller lists for several months, won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1989, and was filmed in 1994, some critics found it sentimental, slapstick, and banal, while others were unreserved in their enthusiastic praise.

All Tyler’s novels draw on a family or a familylike community as a context in which to observe how the characters play out their lives and their relations with one another. The author’s viewpoint varies over a wide range of possibilities: a young boy in If Morning Ever Comes; a teenage girl in A Slipping-Down Life; a wife in Earthly Possessions; an elderly, dying mother in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, in which parts of the story are also told by each of the woman’s three children; and a young uncle, turned single parent, who shares the narrative with two nieces and a nephew in Saint Maybe. In The Ladder of Years a woman runs away from her family while on a beach vacation and reinvents herself in the image she feels more truly represents herself, while the protagonist of Back When We Were Grownups starts the novel with the realization that she had grown up to become “the wrong person” and attempts to discover whether it is still possible to become the right one. These examples show how Tyler varies her narrative voice, which is always sure and credible.

Tyler’s characters are often eccentric and quirky, but they are just as often, in the same book, pitiable in their idiosyncrasies, misunderstandings, and failures. Tyler’s world is a comic one where ordinary people make mistakes yet learn to cope with life’s problems, take personal risks, and find alternative ways to survive. Contemporary society constantly challenges Tyler’s characters with its changing traditions and sex-roles, its urban decline, and its clutter. Her protagonists find they cannot cling to the past but must move forward, make adult choices, learn to satisfy their own needs while reaching out to others, deal with modern complexity, and tolerate human difference. The more inclusive and complicated their worlds become, Tyler suggests, the more vital and fulfilled they will be.

BibliographyBail, Paul. Anne Tyler: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Part of a series of reference books about popular contemporary writers, this book contains a biography, literary influences on Anne Tyler, and individual chapters that discuss twelve of Tyler’s novels. General analysis includes how her novels fit into southern regional literature, women’s literature, and popular culture, as well as critiques from feminist and multicultural points of view. Bail also discusses plot, characters, themes, literary devices, historical settings, and narrative points of view as they apply to individual novels. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography.Croft, Robert W. Anne Tyler: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Part of a series focusing on American authors, this book is divided into two parts: a biography which includes four chapters, each followed by endnotes. It concludes with an extensive bibliography, divided into primary and secondary sources, with a list of Anne Tyler’s papers at Duke University. “A Setting Apart,” concerns her childhood in a commune, teen years in Raleigh, college at Duke, and early writing. “The Only Way Out,” refers to her feelings of isolation during her early marriage and motherhood and how writing her first novels and short stories kept her in touch with the real world. “Rich with Possibilities” refers to her life in Baltimore, the setting of most of her stories, her book reviews, and discussion of her middle-period novels. “A Border Crossing” deals with Tyler’s fame and recurring themes in her novels.Evans, Elizabeth. Anne Tyler. New York: Twayne, 1993. Contains biography and an overview of Tyler’s works. Includes a useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources.Jansen, Henry. Laughter Among the Ruins: Postmodern Comic Approaches to Suffering. New York: P. Lang, 2001. Tyler is discussed along with Iris Murdoch, John Irving, and Cees Nooteboom in this study of postmodern literary comedy.Kissel, Susan S. Moving On: The Heroines of Shirley Ann Grau, Anne Tyler, and Gail Godwin. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996. Topics include Tyler’s heroines and her identity as a southern writer. Includes a bibliography and an index.Petry, Alice Hall. “Bright Books of Life: The Black Norm in Anne Tyler’s Novels.” The Southern Quarterly 31, no. 1 (Fall, 1992): 7-13. A study of Tyler’s favorable portrayals of African Americans as wise and knowing characters.Quiello, Rose. Breakdowns and Breakthoughts: The Figure of the Hysteric in Contemporary Novels by Women. New York: P. Lang, 1996. Discusses the work of Margaret Drabble, Kate O’Brien, and Anne Tyler. Includes a bibliography and an index.Ravenel, Shannon, ed. Best of the South. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1996. The introduction, by Anne Tyler, discusses the importance of settings and how they change over time. To illustrate, she describes the southern town, where she spent her teens: its tree-lined square, statue of a Confederate soldier, the movie theater, dime store with a snack bar, and the department store where Miss Mildred clerked. She compares it to today’s scene in Raleigh, North Carolina, with its malls lined with salad bars, maxi-movie theaters, music video stores, fast-food restaurants, and the Gap. She discusses the “yeasty prose” of southern writing with its musical quality and conversational tone, characters who are just as important as what happens, and the narrative point of view and dialogue with which southerners identify.Robertson, Mary F. “Anne Tyler: Medusa Points and Contact Points.” In Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, edited by Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheick. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985. A discussion of the narrative form of Tyler’s novels, focusing on her disruption of the conventional expectations of family novels.Salwak, Dale, ed. Anne Tyler as Novelist. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1994. A collection of essays addressing Tyler’s development, attainments, and literary reputation.Stephens, C. Ralph, ed. The Fiction of Anne Tyler. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. A collection of essays selected from papers given in 1989 at the Anne Tyler Symposium in Baltimore and representing a range of interests and approaches.Tyler, Anne. “Still Just Writing.” In The Writer on Her Work: Contemporary Women Writers Reflect on Their Art and Situation. Edited by Janet Sternberg. New York: Norton, 1980. Tyler’s personal essay explains how she keeps her life balanced. Writing fiction draws her into an imaginary world, but being a wife and mother keeps her anchored to the real world of home and family. Writing novels takes much time and concentration, so she has gradually given up writing short stories. Revised chapters from some of her novels appear in periodicals as short stories. She has reduced the number of book reviews she writes because she fears her lack of enthusiasm will not give books and authors a fair analysis.Voelker, Joseph C. Art and the Accidental in Anne Tyler. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989. The first book-length study of Anne Tyler’s fiction, this volume focuses on the development of Tyler’s aesthetics and her treatment of character, particularly her view of selfhood as mystery and of experience as accidental.
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