This is a 1982 novel by Anne Tyler, who wrote The Accidental Tourist and Breathing Lessons among two dozen or so other novels. She keeps cropping in Laura Lippman novel in terms of being another Baltimore writer who narrates a much more domestic version of middle class life in the city. And since she’s written so many books and used copies are everywhere (including in Little Free Libraries and other places) she’s pretty easy to lock down.
In this novel, we begin with Pearl Tull, an older woman in her 70s or 80s on her deathbed reflecting on her life. As we move from here, we jump back a few decades to the start of her marriage, the birth of her three children (two boys, and a girl) and then we get the scene of her husband leaving her (a traveling salesman) to live with his other family that he’s started on the road. So from there we meander through the childhood of her three children as they grow up fatherless, but otherwise in more or less ok terms, and on to their early adulthoods through middle age. The novel is slightly sentimental but not quite maudlin, and the stakes are relatively low throughout, except for the fact that these are the only lives given to the characters (in the same way of our own lives). There’s tension and pressure from growing up in a single parent home, especially given the time periods present in the novel, so while there’s the sense of loss and missing elements, there’s not trauma. Instead this is about a different (and now emergingly more common) kind of life. It doesn’t achieve greatness or anything, but it does achieve goodness.