I’d forgotten how much I liked Anne Tyler. Having just savored Noah’s Compass, her latest, I can’t wait to get back to the library to see what I’ve missed from this prolific novelist whose writing is clever and witty and sometimes heartbreakingly poignant.
In Noah’s Compass, Tyler’s 18th novel, the premise is deceptively simple:
Liam, a man in late middle age, loses his job, which he never liked much anyway.
He moves into a small apartment, and is rather pleased with his new ascetic life, a slowing-down life with less money and less clutter:
“What reason would he have to move again? No new prospects were likely for him. He had accomplished all the conventional tasks -- grown up, found work, gotten married, had children -- and now he was winding down. This is it, he thought. The very end of the line. . . . He was going to be one of those men who die alone among stacks of yellowed newspapers and the dried-out rinds of sandwiches moldering on plates."
After the movers leave, he arranges his furniture, puts away his dishes, and goes to sleep.
He wakes up in the hospital, his head bandaged and his hand bitten. He has no memory of the intruder who broke into his home and bashed his skull.
Gently, Tyler opens up Liam’s life to the reader, and it’s clear he is a clueless man who doesn’t know how to engage with people. His daughters find him irritating and baffling. His ex-wife has given up on him long ago.
But his trauma has startled him awake and hurled him—and with him, his family—into a late-mid-life crisis.
Noah's Compass is a gently written account of a life, and by the end of Liam’s story, I've grown to care about this hapless man, I wish him well, and I'm sad to say goodbye.