I read this before BGO existed, and the following are the comments I wrote in my "Reading Diary" at the time - they are quite specific to that time, just short of my fiftieth birthday, and to my own situation back then!
I had read The Accidental Tourist some considerable number of years previously, and just did not 'get' it at that time. I think Breathing Lessons was the first of AnneTyler's books I had read since then, and her portrayal of family life suddenly seemed really relevant. I have been a fan ever since.
The Accidental Tourist was the first of Anne Tyler's novels that I ever read, back in the 1980s. I can't say that I loved it, it wasn't the kind of novel I was used to, and it took me a couple of books to 'get' Anne Tyler.
But, Macon Leary is typical of Tyler's lead characters; life has somehow got out of his control, and he ls lost and confused. Perhaps I identify with them more nowadays, having discovered that life isn't that easy to keep under control
As is generally the case, the book is better than the film
Charlotte Emory's life is cluttered with other people and their belongings. In particular, with her husband and his family possessions. She longs for clear space, and has gradually been removing whatever she can from the house in preparation for leaving it all one day. She even carries a $100 travellers cheque in her purse so that she can just go when the moment arrives.
Then fate takes a hand, and she is taken as a hostage in a rather feeble bank robbery and embarks on an unplanned road trip down to Florida.
I had some sympathy with Charlotte, living a rather clutter-filled life myself, and initially found the chapters concentrating on her home life more engaging than the long drive with her young abductor. However, Tyler does her usual great job of drawing the reader in to the details of her characters' lives, and I ended up really enjoying reading about this group of typical Tyler oddballs.
This book has been getting rave reviews and I usually enjoy Anne Tyler's books, so I thought I'd read it. I raced through it, so it kept my attention. I found though, that while I liked it a lot, I didn't love it. I'm not sure why. My mother says that she doesn't always get along with Anne Tyler's books and maybe it's that. Or maybe it's that I don't really love novels that are all about relationships.
In any event, this is a novel about a family and the relationships among the various family members. The focus is on the family of Red Whitshank, his wife Abby, and their 4 adult children: Amanda, Jeannie, Denny, and Stem. Denny is the ghost of the family, who appears and disappears as he wishes. This enrages his siblings and upsets his mother, but one thing I noticed is that he's there when he's really needed. I was never sure how he knew, but he seemed to know and appear. But he resents his younger brother Stem something fierce and their relationship is never really good. At one point, it devolves into a fist fight!
The Whitshanks love to tell family stories and yet we often find in the course of the book that there is a lot more to the story than we first realize or the actual facts bear only a nodding relationship to the story. And of course, there are secrets. So I think if I were coming up with an over-arching theme, it would be that we never really know everything about another person and often what we think we know is not right. These interpretations say as much about the hearer as they do about the actual protagonists in the story.
So, recommend if you like Tyler or books about relationships and families. Which is damning it with faint praise. I liked it more than it sounds like I did.
After I started reading this I checked the publication date which turned out to be 1964, possibly her first published novel.
Ben Joe is the only boy in a family of six sisters, Mama and Gram. He is studying for a law degree in New York when he hears his eldest sister Joanne has left her husband and returned home with her baby girl. Out of a mixture of homesickness and duty Ben Joe returns to the North Carolina home in which he has always felt an outsider.
It is a competent short novel. That feels like damming with faint praise, but it's just that I've read many of her later books so I've been spoiled.