Sunday, February 01, 2015

Morgan's Passing (1980)

I'm not sure it's possible to say how disappointing I found this. Anne Tyler's eighth novel and the last before my single favorite (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, though a few others that came after are nearly as good) seemed crazy weak to me. The eccentric middle-aged man at the center of it is too painfully (and unbelievably) cute, dressing up in wacky costumes (cowboy, stage magician, riverboat gambler, frontiersman, soldier) and putting his wacky self in the faces of conventional others. He's not malicious but rather gentle and kindly, and of course wiser than Solomon. I had two more problems—a self-conscious and awkward kinkiness, and most of the narrative arcs, especially the main one. I just couldn't believe most of these people existed in any world I know. Little that they did made sense. Impersonating a doctor and delivering a child and then stalking the couple to become part of their lives are generally more chilling acts to me than as related here, where it's just sort of raffish. I reacted so badly I almost want to scurry back and check the ones I know I like. Have I lost my taste for Tyler? After all, the ones I like are also full of affable kooks, often making poor decisions. But they seemed more deeply plunged into real mysteries of the human heart, where this seems to be a lot of posturing guesswork. Part of this may be the decision to tell it from a man's point of view, which also hampered A Patchwork Planet, though I think generally that is a much better novel. I have no sense of who this Morgan Gower is. I don't think I've met anyone remotely like him. Father of seven girls but willfully irresponsible in a way that reportedly annoys people, but the people seem more indulgent and vaguely charmed. I didn't like him but I think we are meant to. Well, I'm not sure. And I'm even less sure Tyler knew herself. Flailing to make sense of my bad reaction, I see reviewers I think I trust (John Leonard, James Wolcott) liking it for the reasons I like most of the other Tyler novels: her sharp eye for the environments of her characters, and her even sharper ear for the ways they fail to communicate. I have been really affected by the eccentric motley in her novels and the heartbreaking ways they cope and attempt to connect and find satisfaction in their lives. But Morgan's Passing left me cold.

In case it's not at the library.

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