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3.9 out of 5 stars20
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 31 August 2001
This is a carefully told story, with the reader acting like a detective to collect clues as to the character of Charlotte, the narrator, and how she has reached a point where she feels able to leave her husband.
This is done by alternating chapters telling the story of her kidnapping and chapters of recollection, building up a collage of her life from the accidents of her life and the choices that she has been forced to make. The other strong narrative arises from the misunderstandings that have shaped her perception of her relationship with her mother. I found this latter story more interesting.
I have read several Anne Tyler novels now, and if the slow, easy pace agrees with you, then they are beautiful novels. This is an early one (1977) and I would suggest that starting with a later one (such as Breathing Lessons) as they are better - fuller might be the word I am looking for. If you know that you like her, then you will enjoy this one too.
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on 20 August 2001
Anne Tyler has a way of writing characters with so many facets that everyone can find something to relate to.
This book is sometimes disturbing - making you examine how a parent's single remark or a one off event can have such a huge effect on a child, that it shapes their whole life. But it is ulitimately uplifting and positive - the grass may look greener, but once the heroine gets a chance to view her life from the outside, she can re-evaluate it.
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on 19 August 2009
Reading "Digging to America" and then "Earthly possessions" back to back has confirmed my suspicion that Tyler's earlier novels (of which the latter is one) lacks something that the latter novels have. Is it wisdom? That I do not know. The earlier novels such as this one have the same penetrating perception describing families peopled with the usual eccentric characthers but they are not quite as satisfying and this one is not as moving as some of the later Tyler novels. However, the book is enjoyable and one is left wondering about the complexity of the heroine who we gradually get to know as the novel proceeds by looking deep into her past. But do we really know her? I suspose that is the issue with a lot of Tyler novels, the characthers remain somewhat cryptic and unknowable but maybe that more accurately reflects the reality of life.
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I've read getting on for twenty of Anne Tyler's novels and I'm afraid that I think that this is one is probably my least favourite. She strays from the template that forms the basis to most of her novels - introducing us to a number of central characters/describing a dramatic event/detailing how this event impacts on the lives of these characters. In this novel the dramatic event occurs right at the opening of the book and as the book unfolds we learn in alternate chapters the history of the people involved and what happens next. Unfortunately, initially, I didn't really care what happened next because I didn't know the main protagonists Charlotte and Jake, or care about them. Also, both the unfolding narratives of the past and future were interrupted as we flipped from one to the other.

Anne Tyler is a marvellous writer, constructing totally believable peopled worlds from little scraps of observation and mundane details; and therefore inevitably I did get more into the book and I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the house and its odd assortment of inmates. However, I think that it was a mistake to leave behind her tried and tested template, although I salute her for trying something different. Ultimately it was the same message as in most of her books - that families are very important and come in many different shapes and sizes....
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on 5 February 2011
I don't know what it is about Anne Tyler, but she's so talented at capturing a realistic yet compelling world and characters who, by the end, you feel like you've actually known (which is what the best writers always do, I guess). Even though I've not yet been to America I feel like I have after reading one of her books. This is one of the most atmospheric of her novels I've read. It's often one of the saddest too. Another one of her talents is to be touching in the most subtle of ways, without ever getting too over-sentimental or unrealistic. I liked this particular book alot as it's full of memorable characters, a riveting story line, and one of her most pitch perfect endings, even if it's not necessarily the happiest.I thought there maybe freqent parallels between the life of herself and the robber who takes her as his hostage, which I thought was very clever.
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on 19 September 2009
I picked this book to read as it's quite short and the blurb on the back caught my interest. The main character just lets life happen around and too her. I think that happens with most people although they'd not care to admit it. In the end it's really about the family and lives revolving about it. In some ways it's quite sad but I'd still recommend it as it has depth.
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It could have been a day like any other in the dull life of housewife Charlotte but fate decided otherwise. Because of a failed bank heist, she finds herself taken hostage by the robber Jake. Then follows an improvised road trip across the US to escape police attention. Things slowly reveal themselves to be not so simple. Jake isn't the tough guy he tries to be and Charlotte finds a nearly perverse pleasure in being caught in a passive situation, having left her life behind without regret. It is a captivating story because you keep wondering how it could possibly end. In between chapters, we retrace Charlotte's strange and sad life until the bank kidnapping. She is a woman hard to decipher and probably don't quite understand herself and her motivations fully either. Possessions and attachments burden her. She seems on a search for an impossible lightness of being that life, with its bothering duties, can never provide. Hence perhaps, the secret pleasure in drifting away with Jake on the road towards the unknown. But then, what? I won't reveal the ending but it is a wonderful, if very melancholic, story. It raises questions about our choices, our duties, our bonds to things and people and how much of it all is really us? But then detached from everything and everyone, who are we? Charlotte definitely is on the search for an answer...
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Charlotte, bored with her priest husband and her rather random houseful of family members and guests, has decided to leave home. But her plans are interrupted when she is caught up in a bank raid, and kidnapped by the bank robber, Jake.

These are the bare bones of what is actually a gentle, slow-paced novel. The narrative moves back and forth between Charlotte's past and then married life, and her present predicament, and as the story progresses, we get to know both Charlotte and Jake, as Jake takes her on his travels, battling with his own problems as he goes. The family Charlotte has left behind - her husband and daughter, her three brothers-in-law, a strange baby she seems to have picked up along the way, and a couple of lodgers - is beautifully descibed, and as always with this author, it is hard to dislike any of her characters.

I think I have now read pretty well all Anne Tyler's books, and have enjoyed them all. However, this (an early one) lacks some of the depth of the later novels, and while I enjoyed it, it's not one of my favourites. But Tyler writes like a dream, and she knows how to tell a story, and like all her novels, this one is well worth reading.
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on 19 November 2012
This is the first Anne Tyler book i have read and it will not be the last. Whats really special about her writing is the complexities of the characters and how this enables them to really come alive. Charlotte, the protagonist, is unusual in her way of dealing with what life throws at her. Her indifference is intriguing. Her mother really comes alive through Tyler's approach in describing her, especially from Charlotte's point of view. It is not so much the plot which fulfils the reader but the wonderful characters.
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on 9 September 2013
I have had about a ten year break from Ann Tyler. Why? I read this book in a day. And I was left bereft - not wanting more from the story, it was finite, but just wanting to keep walking along with her voice in my head. Oh God I sound like an American, but I just really did enjoy the book.
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