The Garretts will grow on you. This story centers on the Garrett family, starting with the artistic Mercy and her husband Robin, who meet and marry in the 1940s. Robin works at the hardware store that was once owned by Mercy’s father. Together they have three children – dutiful Alice, slightly more wild Lily and the ever more distant younger son, David. They take their sole family vacation in the summer of 1959, which is a focal point for the early part of the novel, and somewhat more so for each of the members of the family throughout their lives. The novel is just a story of a family, and the impact they have on one another across generations. This isn’t a novel in which you’re waiting for the big reveal of a family secret. Instead, the action is much more subtle, the disappointment or joy more intimate. Anne Tyler plays a bit with time, opening the story with a youngish couple, who we discover are Lily’s daughter and her boyfriend. They’re on their way back from a weekend with the boyfriend’s family, and Tyler uses this introduction to give us some hints about what the Garrett’s are all about (and the main topic of the novel – family). From there, she steps back in time, and generally from that point on progresses in a more linear fashion. We get to see different character’s perspectives at different moments in time, revisiting some scenes now familiar to the reader as memories for different characters.
If you’re a fan of Anne Tyler’s writing, I think you’ll enjoy this one. This is a family of flawed people, who mostly want to love each other but also find some parts of being with one another to be difficult. To say that’s easy to relate to is an understatement. But she is empathetic as she shows us how we support and wound our family members, sometimes in the same breath. She writes without grand flourishes about loss as grand and permanent as death and as subtle as a sweater that migrates to another drawer. This is a book about what we want and expect from one another, and what we receive and are willing to give within a family. Nothing in this novel is outlandish or beyond imagining, and yet something about reading it feels surprising. I was absorbed by the novel, YMMV.