This is a novel about an artist, perhaps a great one, not at all an easy thing to attempt: you have to navigate around the shoals of sentimentality about tragic suffering (see Van Gogh); and describing plastic art in a way that conveys more than your own enthusiasm is very difficult too. This artist, Jeremy, is not at all unlike Joseph Cornell, the maker of boxes, famously reclusive, modest, shy and poor, unwilling to leave his house - but even Cornell had more outside life than Tyler gives Jeremy, though he didn't have a wife.
The wife of the great artist is also a commonly attempted subject nowadays, and in this book we root as much for Mary as for Jeremy. The trouble is, I think, that, though we are pleased when they get together and have their many rather faceless children, we don't believe it. Therefore when the end of the book comes, perfectly logically, we don't like it.
But there is a good deal to like in Celestial Navigation - the strange sense of timelessness (with Anne Tyler we always seem to be 20, 30, 40 years behind the given date), the sheer length of life, the dreamlike innerness of an old many-storied house, the sharp pain of regret at uncommunicated love - and the other characters; another damaging mother (as in Homesick Restaurant), a parasitic young drifter, a spinster who finds her role.
Five or six books compete for the title of Tyler's best novel. This one would come sixth or seventh, but still essential reading.
I sometimes have a sense of her as a writer for very old children, people like us perhaps.