Book info

Earthly Possessions (1996)

Earthly Possessions (1996)
Author
Rating
3.72 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0449911810 (ISBN13: 9780449911815)
languge
English
publisher
ballantine books
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Earthly Possessions (1996)
Earthly Possessions (1996)

About book: "The marriage wasn't going well and I decided to leave my husband."So begins Anne Tyler's story of a woman named Charlotte, 35, from a small town in Maryland, sometime in the mid-1970s. A tale of ordinary people, with all the strengths and limitations that implies. Tyler has been ploughing this soil for well on 40 years now, and this is one of her earlier works, her seventh novel. Admittedly, she is no Updike - not such a showy stylist at any rate (but then who is?) - nonetheless, her prose has a cool, quiet artistry. Charlotte Emory is kidnapped by a young ne'er-do-well at the bank counter, and on their hasty flight south to Florida in a stolen car (the passenger-side doors locked with chains), she looks back upon the entirety of her prosaic life. Her parents' unhappy marriage, father a gloomy studio photographer, mother an ailing Zeppelin of a woman, her childhood spent in dreams of flight from her narrow circumstances. How that dream comes crashing to pieces, less than an hour after she has left home for college, forcing her to return to Clarion, MD and the inescapable parental home. Her subsequent marriage to the returned soldier Saul Emory (who later turns preacher), part of the large Emory brood and their flamboyant matriarch Alberta. All while, in the present, Charlotte is continuing her unreal journey south in the company of Jake Simms, shiftless sticker-upper carroming chaotically through life though fundamentally a good kid at heart, and his barely-legal belle Mindy, who is heavy with child. As I said, very ordinary people, the salt of America's earth, and yet Tyler spins compelling tales out of this mundane material. There are no whizz-bang effects here, no shattering denouements, just quiet decisions and a return to the hard everyday business of living. For some reason, Charlotte's journey south put me in mind of another famous fictional roadtrip taken 15 years earlier - Harry Angstrom trying to flee from his wife Janice and his hometown of Brewer, PA - except that neither he nor Charlotte Emory manage to get very far in the end, neither are able to escape the fixed orbit of their lives. Ultimately, that great big bastard Life will claim the both of them, as it does all the rest of us, for that matter... Looking forward now to catching up with the rest of Anne Tyler's oeuvre.

I loved this book. Deeply ambivalent characters often read as cold or distant, but Anne Tyler's Charlotte is warm and immediately present, like a person sitting right next to me. Her story about becoming a housewife was so moving, even though the author keeps the tone light and breezy.Which is probably for the best, because this portrayal of motherhood is not one we see often — or one we would now approve of (or ever admit to). We meet Charlotte while she is literally in the act of leaving her family. In telling her story, she reveals that she is neither fulfilled by them nor particularly attached to them. She feels caught by them, and while she observes their patterns of caring for each other, she fill her role without any emotional caring. She says, "So I survived. Baked their cakes. Washed their clothes. Fed their dog."Oh Charlotte! It's true, they would be just fine without her. And so she leaves, which of course does not solve the problem.I would have been able to give this book five stars if it had been longer... (view spoiler)[and if Charlotte hadn't just gone back to her family at the end! Honestly I was probably too emotionally invested in Charlotte by the time the kidnapping wrapped up, but I really really really did not want her to go back to her messy house with her messy kids and the messy dog and the messy strangers who keep coming to live with her. Is she going to just cook and clean up after them for the rest of her life? That's not what she wants! This broke my heart. Did anyone else have their heart broken by the end of this book? (hide spoiler)]
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Reviews
Amy
I picked this up at the library because I had read and liked several of Anne Tyler's more recent novels, but hadn't read any of her older ones. I read this one in just a couple of days, and enjoyed it. In every single Anne Tyler novel I've read, the plot/theme/central idea is pretty much the same: main character--always with an offbeat life, and surrounded by an offbeat collection of characters--is dissatisfied and unfulfilled in her life, undergoes some sort of life-changing experience, and comes to realize that her life, and the collection of characters in it, are fulfilling, after all. And for some reason, I never get tired of it...I suppose because it's all about the journey to self-awareness and learning to appreciate what you have, and that never really gets old.
Stacy
Okay, I usually start with what I liked about the book, but I must start with the part that gave me the most trouble. The hostage plot device made me roll my eyes in annoyance for the first fourth of the book. This book was published in 1977, before cell phones but certainly not before common sense. It really isn’t until you get further into the book and had time to reflect that the things that annoyed me about her being a way-too-accomodating hostage were the same things that made her life story so interesting.Charlotte is a woman who has never felt like she belonged anywhere and things seem to happen to her instead of her making any conscious decision herself. She’s stuck in a life not of her choosing. Her mom always told her that she believed that Charlotte had been switched with her real baby at the hospital and that was something that stuck with Charlotte, that she might have another life out there-her real life. So, Charlotte spent her life always believing that one day her real life would show up and she’d be ready to go.there's more on my blog http://stacybuckeye.wordpress.com/201...
Sonja
I almost put this one down a couple of times... Don't know if I was disturbed by the fact that Charlotte was so passive, or the fact that I was seeing more and more of her traits in my life.Glad I saw it through to the end. once again Anne Tyler is a wonderful writer and pulls you in to her characters... whether you like them or not.This book has made me look at my life in a whole new light. I too am a 'coaster'. I coast by daily, letting others push or pull me in the direction that suits them. To me it's just easier to let someone else steer my life. Reading this book has made me a little more aware of my coasting and I know I need to take charge of my life in general and stop asking people 'what do you want to do today' or 'what do you want for supper' etc... But let's face it. I know I probably won't.At least I can escape into a different life every time I pick up a book!http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7...
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