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American life in a day,
This review is from: Breathing Lessons (Kindle Edition)
The Pulitzer prize is awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. This novel won the prize in 1989. It may seem a surprise, since the plot is so slight, scarcely a panoramic view of modern culture - set alongside the definitive statements of other Pulitzer prize-winning novels such as The Colour Purple, or Toni Morrison's Beloved. But it encapsulates within a day the struggles of a family's whole life and of a long marriage.
Tyler begins by setting up a scenario - one that is bound to cause acute stress - and then piling on extra to take it to an extreme pitch. In doing so, it teeters between tragedy, futility and comedy.
It begins with collecting the car from the garage the day of a long drive to the funeral of her oldest friend's husband. It immediately adds an overheard radio talk in that `tells' Maggie that her estranged daughter in law is about to marry another man; followed in a few seconds by a prang with the car; followed by a stressful drive in which you wonder how her husband Ira copes with her; a row that almost busts a decades-long marriage (but they are always doing that); and a funeral as bad amateur dramatics and sing-along. The black observation is piled on - why stop? But perhaps the point is that Ira and Maggie are always living at this extreme of bickering followed by closeness, and maybe Maggie does shift from crisis to crisis as she tries to put the world right, and Ira bickers back and tries to be the sensible grounded one.
This is a turning point in their lives. It is not simply that the funeral at too young an age is a reminder of everyone's mortality and of the passing of youthful aspirations. Ira's and Maggie's daughter is going to college the following day - even though their youngest child will still be there, the nest is almost empty. Maggie would like to fill the space with her ex daughter-in-law and their grand-daughter - but her attempts to bring back together the broken family are doomed to black comic failure, slammed doors and sudden departures.
The day is a vehicle not just for memories, but for exploring American life, so perhaps it is natural territory for the Pulitzer prize, after all. It is an excuse to describe in technicolour detail the contents of a bargain US supermarket; a drive side cafe; low key small town careers; families trying to stick together in the face of disability, ageing, illness and teenage pregnancy; failed ambition; anti-abortion campaigners; an elderly black man who is living in his car; and the inside of care homes. This isn't magic realism - it is intensely observed, shot-by-shot realism.