Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Anne Tyler - Breathing Lessons

Maggie is a nursing assistant at the geriatric hospital in Baltimore. Her husband runs a framing shop. Maggie's high school friend is facing bereavement and wants them present at the memorial service. Maggie's life is ordinary and unambitious. All she yearns for is that her life be unchanging and full. She wants her children around her. She wants her son's broken marriage patched up again, she wishes she had her granddaughter around her. She wishes her daughter was not going away to college. She is willing to alter the truth and meddle around till her objectives are achieved.

Breathing Lessons is the a day in the lives of the Morans. It starts from their drive from Baltimore to Deer Lick, Pennsylvania, and ends when they are ready to sleep. Throughout the events of the day Maggie re-lives a lifetime. She goes back and forth in time, and acquaints us with the pretty picture of Ira and Maggie, in love and content with each other. Maggie wishes for her world to be fuller and more perfect, to encompass her children and grandchildren too. Ira is content to have just Maggie around him.

The charming ordinariness of their lives comes alive through the magical descriptions of Anne Tyler who crafts her characters with love. She breathes a life into them and makes them come alive for us. She has an uncanny ability to weave a story out of everyday happenings. She knows exactly when to imbue a character with mystery and when to strip it away. In the end, we wind up knowing everything about all the characters, and loving them all the more for it.

We love Ira for his mysterious ways when he is wooing Maggie, and we love him all the more when we realise that he regards Maggie as a huge gift, someone to love when he had no hopes of having anyone. We love Maggie for the scatterbrained way in which she tries to fix things and winds up making them worse. We love Ira and Maggie for loving each other and living their lives and braving the various domestic storms.

"I mean you're given all these lessons for the unimportant things - piano-playing, typing. You're given years of lessons in how to do in normal life. But how about parenthood? Or marriage, either, come to think of it. Before you can drive a car you need a state-approved course of instruction, but driving a car is nothing, nothing, compared to living day in and day out with a husband and rising up a new human being." (from Breathing Lessons, 1988)