After the miscue of Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler came roaring back with her best novel since Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. It's not hard to see how some might take her as a bit formulaic—it's always Baltimore, it's always a fractured family, and it's always a heartbreak. But that's pretty much feature not bug; it's what keeps me coming back. She's so frequently capable of creating characters and situations that feel as real as barked shins. There's an easygoingness to the way people connect and cobble together lives in her stories, and yet at the same time she never hangs back from the deepest sources of their pain and the ways they play out. Our hero this time is Ian Bedloe, when we first meet him a typical self-centered 17-year-old with a girlfriend and adoring family. All families are flawed but the Bedloes seem to have a pretty good knack for keeping things on the sunny side. At least, that is, until Ian's older brother Danny, a star athlete in his high school days but lately more of a lost soul, makes what appears to be a bad marriage choice. Lucy is a few years older than Danny, with pretensions of sophistication and a couple of kids already from a mysterious first marriage, but Danny couldn't be happier, especially when she turns up pregnant shortly after they marry. Ian and the others have their suspicions about her, however. When he tries to confront Danny about them, in a typically oafish adolescent way, Danny takes it wrong. A cyclone of downward spiral descends, and tragedy swiftly takes place. Ian is overwhelmed by guilt and responsibility, even as he steps up to it. Eventually he finds his way to a holy-roller storefront Christian sect that seems to help him but also leaves him isolated from everyone around him. Tyler does not shrink from taking on the complexities of the emotional sustenance that a religious community provides, even one that appears alienating to anyone looking in from the outside. The children are heartbreaking and lovely, clinging desperately to Ian; they are unique and charming, with sour streaks and flaws. The connections between all of them, Ian's parents too, and the usual constellation of supporting actors, are distorted as they must be by the privations and the fierce love but they are profound. Nothing here ever feels phony, even when the boat turns toward home with a happy ending. By that point I am as helplessly, exasperatedly in love with Ian as anyone here, and I'm pretty sure that the least that can happen by that point is that things turn out well.