Friday 20 November 2015

Anne Tyler: Stepping off assuredly

Here's a link to an interesting interview with that fine novelist Anne Tyler, whose new one, A Spool of Blue Thread, is on my waiting list. I was delighted to learn that she has the opening lines of Richard Wilbur's Walking to Sleep pinned on her wall to encourage her as she faces the writing day:

'As a queen sits down, knowing that a chair will be there,
Or a general raises his hand and is given the field-glasses,
Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind.
Something will come to you.'

These lines are followed a little later by a warning: 

                                  '... All such suggestions
Are yours to take or leave, but hear this warning:
Let them not be too velvet green, the fields
Which the deft needle of your eye appoints,
Nor the old farm past which you make your way
Too shady-linteled, too instinct with home...'

Tyler's more negative critics detect something sentimental and excessively homey in her novels, or claim they do.  I don't myself see how anyone reading her with close and unprejudiced attention could reach any such conclusion. Perhaps her mistake has been to acknowledge that a particular deep happiness is among the possibilities of family life; that's never going to make you popular in some circles. Though she's a rare combination of a genuinely popular novelist and one hugely admired by her fellow writers, Tyler has never been fashionable, and never a critics' darling.
 Her openness to happy states of being also aligns her with Richard Wilbur, who in a Paris Review interview declared himself thus:
'I feel that the universe is full of glorious energy, that the energy tends to take pattern and shape, and that the ultimate character of things is comely and good. I am perfectly aware that I say this in the teeth of all sorts of contradictory evidence, and that I must be basing it partly on temperament and partly on faith, but that is my attitude.'
 The headline on the Anne Tyler interview seems odd: is her claim not to be a 'spiritual person' really the story? Well, we must take her word for it. Richard Wilbur, by contrast, is certainly inclined towards spirituality - or rather, in his own words, he is preoccupied with finding 'the proper relation between the tangible world and the intuitions of the spirit'. Which seems to me as good a summing-up as any of the poet's job.

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