‘My favourite type of mystery, suspenseful, and where everyone is not what they appear . . . Christine is great at creating atmosphere . . . she evokes the magic of the stage, and her characters [have] a past to be uncovered before the mystery is solved.’ [Stage Fright]

- Lizzie Hayes, MYSTERY WOMEN

Digging to America

Posted on Jan 30, 2009 in Anne Tyler, Jane Smiley, Updike | 5 Comments

I’ve read a number of Anne Tyler’s novels and enjoyed them. I think LADDER OF YEARS and BREATHING LESSONS are particularly good. (As I write this, the cat has just climbed into my in tray – is he trying to tell me something?). But I wasn’t so sure about AN AMATEUR MARRIAGE, nor about the latest, DIGGING TO AMERICA which I’ve just finished. “|???? (Cat has just walked across key board – he definitely wants something). Yes, there is some marvellous writing: she perfectly catches the irrationality and pain and disorientation of bereavement; the themes of parenthood, belonging, growing old are in themselves endlessly fascinating; and she is so good on the petty anxieties and confusions of human relationship. And yet, and yet . . . I found myself skipping ahead. Partly it was that I didn’t like one of the main characters – Bitsy – what a name! – so bossy and judgmental – and there were just too many characters. I found myself flicking back to work out who some of the minor ones were – always a bad sign. And was there just a hint of saccharine towards the end?
Could it be that Tyler wrote her best books mid-career ? That seems to be have been the case with John Updike and of some other writers. One of them is Jane Smiley: A THOUSAND ACRES is a masterpiece. Has she written anything quite as good since that? I don’t know where I’m going with this, except perhaps to wonder if writers have a finite number of really good novels in them.


  1. Pat
    February 4, 2009

    I was just reading your blog to see if you would be writing any more books. I am sorry to hear about your mother. That is a great loss. I know reading has always helped me through difficult times, so I hope it is helping you also. I sometimes write a blog about reading and no one ever comments, so I just wanted to say I’m glad to see you are online again and we love your books here in the US.

  2. Sue Hepworth
    February 11, 2009

    I don’t know when Tyler wrote her best books – I like Ladder of Years and Breathing Lessons and A Patchwork Planet best. I, too, was disappointed with Digging to Amnerica. It didn’t feel as though the author was convinced about it herself. There was something lacking – almost as if she had chosen her subject with her head, but didn’t quite “feel” it in her guts.

  3. Lyracat
    February 12, 2009

    John Updike kept writing about the same thing, as far as I remember, and I couldn’t stand it. Every Jane Smiley story is completely different, so you can’t do the “I’d like more of that” thing. Personally I’d prefer to read her any day, except perhaps the horsey ones, which are a bit lost on me…
    Did you read the Dentists short story? Incredible.

  4. Christine
    February 13, 2009

    Thank, Pat, I very much appreciate this. Yes, reading did help. except at first. Please give me your blog address. So few people have commented on mine that it took me a while to realise that some comments had ben flagged up!

  5. Christine
    February 13, 2009

    Lyracat: yes, I have read the short story about the dentists – I’ve just looked and it’s in THE AGE OF GRIEF. ‘Long Distance’ and ‘Dynamite’ in the same collection are very good, too.
    I agree with you, Sue. Thanks for commenting.


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