Noah's Compass

Noah's Compass

3.1 187
by Anne Tyler

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Liam Pennywell, who set out to be a philosopher and ended up teaching fifth grade, never much liked the job at that run-down private school, so early retirement doesn’t bother him. But he is troubled by his inability to remember anything about the first night that he moved into his new and spare condominium on the outskirts of Baltimore. All he knows when he

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Liam Pennywell, who set out to be a philosopher and ended up teaching fifth grade, never much liked the job at that run-down private school, so early retirement doesn’t bother him. But he is troubled by his inability to remember anything about the first night that he moved into his new and spare condominium on the outskirts of Baltimore. All he knows when he wakes up the next day in the hospital is that his head is sore and bandaged. His effort to recover the moments of his life that have been stolen from him leads him on an unexpected detour. What he needs is someone who can do the remembering for him. What he gets is . . . well, something quite different.

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Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
…a small story that provides an interesting variation on those dismal tales of aging by [Philip] Roth & Co…"Just trying to stay afloat"—neither sinking into Roth's existential despair nor ascending into Oprah's blinding self-delight—that's the difficult, totally unhip theme that Tyler takes clear to the end of this understated novel. In fact, Noah's Compass is likely to dissatisfy many of the author's fans, who have come to count on her for more fully resolved tragedies or more satisfying personal insights. Instead, with Liam, she has articulated the melancholy stasis of many older people's lives.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Like Tyler's previous protagonists, Liam Pennywell is a man of unexceptional talents, plain demeanor, modest means and curtailed ambition. At age 60, he's been fired from his teaching job at a “second-rate private boys' school” in Baltimore, a job below his academic training and original expectations. An unsentimental, noncontemplative survivor of two failed marriages and the emotionally detached father of three grown daughters, Liam is jolted into alarm after he's attacked in his apartment and loses all memory of the experience. His search to recover those lost hours leads him into an uneasy exploration of his disappointing life and into an unlikely new relationship with Eunice, a socially inept walking fashion disaster who is half his age. She is also spontaneous and enthusiastic, and Liam longs to cast off his inertia and embrace the “joyous recklessness” that he feels in her company. Tyler's gift is to make the reader empathize with this flawed but decent man, and to marvel at how this determinedly low-key, plainspoken novelist achieves miracles of insight and understanding. (Jan.)
Library Journal
"In the sixty-first year of his life, Liam Pennywell lost his job." Echoing loudly the cadences of biblical prose, Tyler's opening sentence portends Liam's ominous downward spiral. Soon after he's forced into early retirement from a second-rate private boy's school, Liam moves to a smaller apartment. Once unpacked, he lies down to sleep and wakes up the next morning, head sore and bandaged, in the hospital. With no recollection about how he ended up there, Liam wanders through his days searching, much like Noah scanning the desolate waters for land. Along the way, he meets Eunice, who cannot prod his memory of that night but does stir some of Liam's other long-forgotten feelings. Working at her characteristically leisurely pace, Tyler poignantly portrays one man's search for wholeness and redemption as he picks up the shards of a life shattered by the crashing waves of aging. Unlike similar Updike and Roth characters, who worry more about their inability to perform sexual athletics any longer, Tyler's character struggles with the visceral loss of identity brought on by forced retirement and the indignities of memory loss. VERDICT Another winning effort by Tyler; for readers of Reynolds Price's The Promise of Rest and early Tyler novels such as Dinner at Homesick Restaurant. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09.]—Henry Carrigan, Evanston, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Instead of the measured critical commentary typically found here, let's consider this column a mash note. For the converted, the publication of a new Anne Tyler novel is like holy communion, a ritual return to the altar of the Homesick Restaurant, another opportunity to explore the muddles of the human condition in language as clear as a mountain spring. Noah's Compass, her 18th novel, is one of Tyler's more deceptively rich and enigmatically titled (there is no character named Noah, and the evocation of the Bible story lasts less than a page). Set as usual in her native Baltimore, the novel concerns a fifth-grade, private-school teacher named Liam Pennywell, who has been "downsized" from his employment at the age of 60 and who subsequently suffers a traumatic injury that causes him to lose a bit of his memory. His life had seemed pretty empty before he left the job he disliked, and now it seems emptier. His first wife committed suicide (he still appears numb to this tragedy), and his second divorced him in exasperation. His three daughters don't know him as well as does his one sister, whom he sees maybe once per year. He has one friend but has no idea how that relationship has sustained itself. "I'm not unhappy, but I don't see any particular reason to go on living," admits Liam. Not the most promising protagonist, but Tyler remains the most extraordinary chronicler of everyday wonders, the author who best understands how our flaws define us, yet how difficult it is for us to absolve others until we are able to absolve ourselves. Life never goes as planned, but the surprises it offers to those who are receptive to them can provide redemption beyond expectation. Through some combinationof initiative, fate and chance, Liam discovers in his search for his missing memory just how much he has repressed, and he finds himself open-to love and to hurt-at an age when he thought he'd left such emotions behind. "It's as if I've never been entirely present in my own life," he says. Such a discovery doesn't inevitably lead to a happily-ever-after conclusion. Beneath the comedy on the surface of any Tyler novel lies an undercurrent of existential melancholy. His feelings renewed, Liam sees himself "ambushed by complexities . . . It struck him that life in general was heartbreaking-a word he didn't toss off lightly."In Tyler's novels (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, 1982; the Pulitzer Prize-winning Breathing Lessons, 1988), to understand is to forgive. We are formed by our past but need not be imprisoned by it. Some families thrown together through happenstance can forge stronger bonds than those related by blood. Small epiphanies can awaken us to possibilities we had never anticipated. By the end of the novel, the particulars of Liam's life really haven't changed that much, but he is utterly transformed. And so will be the reader. First printing of 300,000
Heller McAlpin
My mother used to have an expression she trotted out whenever she saw a particularly geekish or unattractive couple: "I know there's a god." She wasn't religious, and clearly didn't mean it that way. What she meant was, "Isn't it nice that there's someone for everyone and even so-called losers find their match?"

I thought of this while reading Anne Tyler's 18th novel, Noah's Compass, an offbeat, bittersweet love story about life's missed opportunities, because Tyler is a champion of the so-called loser. With the notable exception of her last novel, Digging to America, which dealt with issues of immigration and American identity, Tyler's focus has been on awkward, shy, lonely, often mismatched people, mostly residents of Baltimore, who all become remarkable and uncommonly sympathetic under her wry but gentle scrutiny.

Whether she's considering the conflict between domesticity and freedom or tracking a single day in the life of a couple who love each other through 28 years of basic incompatibility -- as she did in her 1989 Pulitzer Prize winner, Breathing Lessons -- a central element of many Tyler novels is her characters' unsettling realization that their life hasn't gone the way they had hoped. It is not uncommon for a Tyler character to not just think about the road not taken but to veer off track and take it. In her ninth novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, (1982) Beck Tull deserts his wife and three children. In her 13th, Ladder of Years, (1995), Tyler's 40-year-old heroine walks away from her husband and three children while on vacation. Back When We Were Grownups opens with the line, "Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person."

Noah's Compass is about a man who has somehow lived the wrong life because he never fully engaged with anything or anyone. When Liam Pennywell, a schoolteacher, is forced into early retirement at 60, it propels him in new, not altogether comfortable directions. Look how easy it is to slip into an Anne Tyler novel:

In the sixty-first year of his life, Liam Pennywell lost his job.

It wasn't such a good job, anyhow. He'd been teaching fifth grade in a second-rate private boys' school. Fifth grade wasn't even what he'd been trained for. Teaching wasn't what he'd been trained for. His degree was in philosophy. Oh, don't ask.

Note that colloquial, good-natured, tone-setting "anyhow" and "Oh, don't ask." They alert us that this guy, Liam Pennywell, is not a fighter but rather iseasily resigned, passive, even fatalistic -- a characterization Tyler reinforces in all that follows. He's a man with "a fondness for routine" whose "policy [is] not to argue. (An infuriating policy, his daughters always claimed.)"

After getting the axe at work, Liam enthusiastically takes a hatchet to his expenses, downsizing his very existence: "It could be just the nudge he needed to push him on to the next stage -- the final stage, the summing-up stage." His new apartment, across the highway from a mall, is barebones and charmless, but he settles in contentedly for the first night of the rest of his life there. When he wakes up in a hospital "with a helmet of gauze on his head," he's as mystified as we are, and Tyler has us totally hooked.

Liam has no recollection of how he landed in the hospital, and this memory gap -- more than the loss of his job, more than the loss of his first wife to postpartum depression and his second to divorce, more than the loss of connection with his three daughters -- is what finally makes him feel out of control. It also leads to a harsh reassessment of his past:

How could he have ended up so alone? Two failed marriages (for he had to count Millie's death as a failure), three daughters who led their own lives, and a sister he seldom spoke to. The merest handful of friends -- more like acquaintances, really. A promising youth that had somehow trailed off in a series of low-paying jobs far beneath his qualifications. Why, that last job had used about 10 percent of his brain!
Note how the exclamation point deftly expresses Liam's exasperation but lack of real anger.

Gradually, we watch his narrowly circumscribed life expand -- though with minimal encouragement or effort on his part. His flaky 17-year-old daughter, Kitty, comes to live with him to escape her overly restrictive mother, Barbara, whom she describes as "this, like rule-monger. Nit-picker." His fundamentalist Christian middle daughter periodically drops off his somber grandson, Jonah, with a coloring book of Bible stories. Discussing Noah and his Ark, Liam explains that Noah didn't need sails or a compass because he wasn't going anywhere but was just trying to stay afloat. The parallel with Liam, bobbing rudderless in the sea of his life, is beautifully implied.

An unlikely life preserver and soul mate surfaces in the form of Eunice Dunstead. Obsessed with his missing memory, Liam is first drawn to Eunice because of her job as a personal assistant who serves as a sort of "hired rememberer" or "external hard drive" for a successful developer who's losing his power of recall. Despite being "plump and frizzy-haired and bespectacled, dumpily dressed, bizarrely jeweled, too young for him and too earnest," Eunice is increasingly beguiling to him as they connect.

With delightful, comic precision that is reminiscent of an Alan Ayckbourn farce, Tyler orchestrates the giddy comings and goings of Liam's outspokenly critical daughters, ex-wife, and sister, all of whom think he's a hopeless loser, as they repeatedly interrupt his improbable budding romance. Even in less antic, more somber moments, she maintains a light touch and captures the texture of family interactions with vivid details.

Yet just when we're cueing in my mother's "I know there's a god," Tyler pulls a fast one on us. It turns out she's more interested in the ramifications of broken marriages -- Liam's, and his parents' -- than in the happily-ever-after. Are we surprised? We shouldn't be. The absent parent and the question of whether one person's happiness justifies hurting another have been recurrent themes in her fiction. Noah's Compass is yet another reminder that we should never, ever underestimate Anne Tyler: she's nimble, she's wise, and she's as deep as those biblical floodwaters. --Heller McAlpin

Heller McAlpin is a New York–based book critic whose reviews appear regularly in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, and Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.

From the Publisher
Praise for Anne Tyler’s Noah’s Compass
“Everyone loves Anne Tyler . . . and her 18th novel will doubtless supply another reason.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
Noah’s Compass is immensely readable. It displays many of Tyler’s finest qualities: her sharp observation of humanity, her wry comedy; the luminous accuracy of her descriptions . . . Hers is a fine-grained art, whose comedy could easily coarsen into the self-consciously quirky. If it does not, this is because her surprises are rooted in character: it is human nature that she evidently finds infinitely fascinating and surprising, with its constantly unforeseeable capacity for change . . . [A] novel by Anne Tyler is cause for celebration.”
—Caroline Moore, The Sunday Telegraph
“Tyler reveals, with unobtrusive mastery, the disconcerting patchwork of comedy and pathos that marks all our lives.”
—Michael Dirda, The Wall Street Journal
“Dazzling . . . A beautifully subtle book, an elegant contemplation of what it means to be happy.”
—Elizabeth Day, The Observer, UK
“Fired from his job, Liam Pennywell moves into a small apartment and wakes up the next morning in the hospital with head injuries he can’t explain. What turns out to have been an attack by a thief leads to unexpected grace, as Liam is forced to engage more deeply with his family and with a woman who finds him irresistible.”
More magazine
“Pure pleasure”
—Helen W. Mallon, Philadelphia Inquirer

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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5.28(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

Noah's Compass

A Novel
By Anne Tyler

Ballantine Books

Copyright © 2010 Anne Tyler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780345516596

In the sixty-first year of his life, Liam Pennywell lost his job. It wasn’t such a good job, anyhow. He’d been teaching fifth grade in a second-rate private boys’ school. Fifth grade wasn’t even what he’d been trained for. Teaching wasn’t what he’d been trained for. His degree was in philosophy. Oh, don’t ask. Things seemed to have taken a downward turn a long, long time ago, and perhaps it was just as well that he had seen the last of St. Dyfrig’s dusty, scuffed corridors and those interminable after-school meetings and the reams of niggling paperwork.

In fact, this might be a sign. It could be just the nudge he needed to push him on to the next stage—the final stage, the summing-up stage. The stage where he sat in his rocking chair and reflected on what it all meant, in the end.

He had a respectable savings account and the promise of a pension, so his money situation wasn’t out-and-out desperate. Still, he would have to economize. The prospect of economizing interested him. He plunged into it with more enthusiasm than he’d felt in years—gave up his big old-fashioned apartment within the week and signed a lease on a smaller place, a one-bedroom-plus-den in a modern complex out toward the Baltimore Beltway. Of course this meant paring down his possessions, but so much the better. Simplify, simplify! Somehow he had accumulated far too many encumbrances. He tossed out bales of old magazines and manila envelopes stuffed with letters and three shoe boxes of index cards for the dissertation that he had never gotten around to writing. He tried to palm off his extra furniture on his daughters, two of whom were grown-ups with places of their own, but they said it was too shabby. He had to donate it to Goodwill. Even Goodwill refused his couch, and he ended up paying 1-800-GOT-JUNK to truck it away. What was left, finally, was compact enough that he could reserve the next-smallest-size U-Haul, a fourteen-footer, for moving day.

On a breezy, bright Saturday morning in June, he and his friend Bundy and his youngest daughter’s boyfriend lugged everything out of his old apartment and set it along the curb. (Bundy had decreed that they should develop a strategy before they started loading.) Liam was reminded of a photographic series that he’d seen in one of those magazines he had just thrown away. National Geographic? Life? Different people from different parts of the world had posed among their belongings in various outdoor settings. There was a progression from the contents of the most primitive tribesman’s hut (a cooking pot and a blanket, in Africa or some such) to a suburban American family’s football-field-sized assemblage of furniture and automobiles, multiple TVs and sound systems, wheeled racks of clothing, everyday china and company china, on and on and on. His own collection, which had seemed so scanty in the gradually emptying rooms of his apartment, occupied an embarrassingly large space alongside the curb. He felt eager to whisk it away from public view. He snatched up the nearest box even before Bundy had given them the go-ahead.

Bundy taught phys ed at St. Dyfrig. He was a skeletal, blue-black giraffe of a man, frail by the looks of him, but he could lift astonishing weights. And Damian—a limp, wilted seventeen-year-old—was getting paid for this. So Liam let the two of them tackle the heavy stuff while he himself, short and stocky and out of shape, saw to the lamps and the pots and pans and other light objects. He had packed his books in small cartons and so those he carried too, stacking them lovingly and precisely against the left inner wall of the van while Bundy singlehandedly wrestled with a desk and Damian tottered beneath an upside-down Windsor chair balanced on top of his head. Damian had the posture of a consumptive—narrow, curved back and buckling knees. He resembled a walking comma.

The new apartment was some five miles from the old one, a short jaunt up North Charles Street. Once the van was loaded, Liam led the way in his car. He had assumed that Damian, who was below the legal age for driving a rental, would ride shotgun in the van with Bundy, but instead he slid in next to Liam and sat in a jittery silence, chewing on a thumbnail and lurking behind a mane of lank black hair. Liam couldn’t think of a single thing to say to him. When they stopped for the light at Wyndhurst he contemplated asking how Kitty was, but he decided it might sound odd to inquire about his own daughter. Not until they were turning off Charles did either of them speak, and then it was Damian. “Swingin’ bumper sticker,” he said.

Since there were no cars ahead of them, Liam knew it had to be his own bumper sticker Damian meant. (BUMPER STICKER, it read—a witticism that no one before had ever seemed to appreciate.) “Why, thanks,” he said. And then, feeling encouraged: “I also have a T-shirt that says T-SHIRT.” Damian stopped chewing his thumbnail and gaped at him. Liam said, “Heh, heh,” in a helpful tone of voice, but still it seemed that Damian didn’t get it.

The complex Liam was moving to sat opposite a small shopping mall. It consisted of several two-story buildings, flat-faced and beige and bland, placed at angles to each other under tall, spindly pines. Liam had worried about privacy, seeing the network of paths between buildings and the flanks of wide, staring windows, but during the whole unloading process they didn’t run into a single neighbor. The carpeting of brown pine needles muffled their voices, and the wind in the trees above them made an eerily steady whispering sound. “Cool,” Damian said, presumably meaning the sound, since he had his face tipped upward as he spoke. He was under the Windsor chair again. It loomed like an oversized bonnet above his forehead.

Liam’s unit was on the ground floor. Unfortunately, it had a shared entrance—a heavy brown steel door, opening into a dank-smelling cinderblock foyer with his own door to the left and a flight of steep concrete steps directly ahead. Second-floor units cost less to rent, but Liam would have found it depressing to climb those stairs every day.

He hadn’t given much thought beforehand to the placement of his furniture. Bundy set things down any old where but Damian proved unexpectedly finicky, shoving Liam’s bed first one way and then another in search of the best view. “Like, you’ve got to see out the window first thing when you open your eyes,” he said, “or how will you know what kind of weather it is?” The bed was digging tracks across the carpet, and Liam just wanted to leave it where it stood. What did he care what kind of weather it was? When Damian started in on the desk—it had to be positioned where sunlight wouldn’t reflect off the computer screen, he said—Liam told him, “Well, since I don’t own a computer, where the desk is now will be fine. That about wraps things up, I guess.”

“Don’t own a computer!” Damian echoed.

“So let me just get you your money, and you can be on your way.”

“But how do you, like, communicate with the outside world?”

Liam was about to say that he communicated by fountain pen, but Bundy said, chuckling, “He doesn’t.” Then he clapped a hand on Liam’s shoulder. “Okay, Liam, good luck, man.”

Liam hadn’t meant to dismiss Bundy along with Damian. He had envisioned the two of them sharing the traditional moving-day beer and pizza. But of course, Bundy was providing Damian’s ride back. (It was Bundy who’d picked up the U-Haul, bless him, and now he’d be returning it.) So Liam said, “Well, thank you, Bundy. I’ll have to have you over once I’m settled in.” Then he handed Damian a hundred and twenty dollars in cash. The extra twenty was a tip, but since Damian pocketed the bills without counting them, the gesture felt like a waste. “See you around,” was all he said. Then he and Bundy left. The inner door latched gently behind them but the outer door, the brown steel one, shook the whole building when it slammed shut, setting up a shocked silence for several moments afterward and emphasizing, somehow, Liam’s sudden solitude.

Well. So. Here he was.

He took a little tour. There wasn’t a lot to look at. A medium-sized living room, with his two armchairs and the rocking chair facing in random directions and filling not quite enough space. A dining area at the far end (Formica-topped table from his first marriage and three folding chairs), with a kitchen alcove just beyond. The den and the bathroom opened off the hall that led back to the bedroom. All the floors were carpeted with the same beige synthetic substance, all the walls were refrigerator white, and there were no moldings whatsoever, no baseboards or window frames or door frames, none of those gradations that had softened the angles of his old place. He found this a satisfaction. Oh, his life was growing purer, all right! He poked his head into the tiny den (daybed, desk, Windsor chair) and admired the built-in shelves. They had been a big selling point when he was apartment hunting: two tall white bookshelves on either side of the patio door. Finally, finally he’d been able to get rid of those glass-fronted walnut monstrosities he had inherited from his mother. It was true that these shelves were less spacious. He’d had to consolidate a bit, discarding the fiction and biographies and some of his older dictionaries. But he had kept his beloved philosophers, and now he looked forward to arranging them. He bent over a carton and opened the flaps. Epictetus. Arrian. The larger volumes would go on the lower shelves, he decided, even though they didn’t need to, since all the shelves were exactly, mathematically the same height. It was a matter of aesthetics, really—the visual effect. He hummed tunelessly to himself, padding back and forth between the shelves and the cartons. The sunlight streaming through the glass door brought a fine sweat to his upper lip, but he postponed rolling up his shirtsleeves because he was too absorbed in his task.

After the study came the kitchen, less interesting but still necessary, and so he moved on to the boxes of foods and utensils. This was the most basic of kitchens, with a single bank of cabinets, but that was all right; he’d never been much of a cook. In fact here it was, late afternoon, and he was only now realizing that he’d better fix himself some lunch. He made a jelly sandwich and ate it as he worked, swigging milk straight from the carton to wash it down. The sight of the six-pack of beer in the refrigerator, brought over the day before along with his perishables, gave him a pang of regret that took a moment to explain. Ah, yes: Bundy. He must remember to phone Bundy tomorrow and thank him at greater length. Invite him to supper, even. He wondered what carry-out establishments delivered within his new radius.

In the living room he arranged the chairs in what he hoped was a friendly conversational grouping. He placed a lamp table between the two armchairs and the coffee table in front of them, and the other lamp table he set next to the rocker, which was where he imagined sitting to read at the end of every day. Or all day, for that matter. How else would he fill the hours?

Even in the summers, he had been accustomed to working. St. Dyfrig students could be counted on to require an abundance of remedial courses. He had taken almost no vacation—just one week in early June and two in August.

Well, think of this as one of those weeks. Just proceed a day at a time, is all.

On the kitchen wall, the telephone rang. He had a new number but he had kept his existing plan, which included caller ID (one of the few modern inventions he approved of), and he checked the screen before he lifted the receiver. ROYALL J S. His sister. “Hello?” he said.

“How’s it going, Liam?”

“Oh, fine. I think I’m just about settled.”

“Have you made up your bed yet?”

“Well, no.”

“Do it. Now. You should have done it first thing. Pretty soon you’re going to notice you’re exhausted, and you don’t want to be hunting for sheets then.”

“Okay,” he said.

Julia was four years his senior. He was used to receiving orders from her.

“Later in the week I may stop by and visit. I’ll bring you a pot of beef stew,” she said.

“Well, that’s very nice of you, Julia,” he said.

He hadn’t eaten red meat in thirty-some years, but it would have been useless to remind her.

After he hung up he obediently made his bed, which was easily navigated since Damian had positioned it so there was walking space on either side. Then he tackled the closet, where clothes had been dumped every which way. He nailed his shoe bag to the closet door and fitted in his shoes; he draped his ties on the tie rack that he found already installed. He’d never owned a tie rack before. Then, since he had the hammer out, he decided to go ahead and hang his pictures. Oh, he was way ahead of the game! Picture hanging was a finishing touch, something that took most people days. But he might as well see this through.

His pictures were unexceptional—van Gogh prints, French bistro posters, whatever he’d chosen haphazardly years and years ago just to save his walls from total blankness. Even so, it took him a while to find the appropriate spot for each one and get it properly centered. By the time he’d finished it was after eight and he’d had to turn all the lights on. The ceiling globe in the living room had a burnt-out bulb, he discovered. Well, never mind; he’d see to that tomorrow. All at once, enough was enough.

He wasn’t the slightest bit hungry, but he heated a bowl of vegetable soup in his miniature microwave and sat down at the table to eat it. First he sat facing the kitchen alcove, with his back to the living room. The view was uninspiring, though, so he switched to the end chair that faced the window. Not that he had much to see even there—just a sheet of glossy blackness and a vague, transparent reflection of his own round gray head—but it would be nice in the daytime. He would automatically settle in that chair from now on, he supposed. He had a fondness for routine.

When he stood up to take his empty bowl to the kitchen, he was ambushed by sudden aches in several parts of his body. His shoulders hurt, and his lower back, and his calves and the soles of his feet. Early though it was, he locked his door and turned off the lights and went into the bedroom. His made-up bed was a welcome sight. As usual, Julia had known what she was talking about.

He skipped his shower. Getting into his pajamas and brushing his teeth took his last ounce of energy. When he sank onto the bed, it was almost beyond his willpower to reach over and turn off the lamp, but he forced himself to do it. Then he slid down flat, with a long, deep, groaning sigh.

His mattress was comfortably firm, and the top sheet was tucked in tightly on either side of him as he liked. His pillow had just enough bounce to it. The window, a couple of feet away, was cranked open to let the breeze blow in, and it offered a view of a pale night sky with a few stars visible behind the sparse black pine boughs—just a scattering of pinpricks. He was glad now that Damian had taken such trouble to situate the bed right.

Most probably, he reflected, this would be the final dwelling place of his life. 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. And he felt a mild stirring of curiosity.

Then he woke up in a hospital room with a helmet of gauze on his head.

From the Hardcover edition.


Excerpted from Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler Copyright © 2010 by Anne Tyler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Noah's Compass 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 184 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Baltimore Liam Pennywell thought he would be the great twentieth and twenty-first century philosopher rather than a fifth grade school teacher at St. Dyfrig. However, to be an accomplished muse takes ambition and hard work; two traits that Liam lacks as his two former wives and his three estrange daughters would testify. He is taken aback when the second-rate private school retires him though he just turned sixty one. He comes home bewildered only to wake up the next day in a hospital with no recall of the assault in his apartment. Liam needs to know what happened during the lost hours so he begins a quest. He meets thirtyish Eunice, whose élan for life is opposite of his dark world view. Somehow she encourages him to be all he can be; although he insists that is not much he vows to try to shake off his lethargy with reckless abandonment. This is a terrific character study that avoids clichés so the audience roots for Liam to regain what he once had and lost after years of what he perceived were kidney shots from those who he loved. The story line is leisurely and meandering with no great nirvana as Liam tries with Eunice encouraging him. Anne Tyler is at her best with this super tale of a man kicked to the curb and the young woman who insists That's Life (Sinatra) as "Some people get their kicks stompin' on your dreams" while others will encourage you to "get back in the race". Harriet Klausner
sw7134 More than 1 year ago
I have been reading Anne Tyler's books for 25 years. She has never let me down. Her characters are so real, so funny, and so much more interesting than the people I deal with in my everyday life. There is nothing better than an Anne Tyler novel,. I planned the last 3 days reading it, putting it down more than I really wanted to, hoping it would last forever! How I long to meet Liam here in Florida. I can only hope she will continue to write about the good in ordinary people.
2manybooks2littletime More than 1 year ago
Typical Anne Tyler. Exactly what we have come to expect from her books. She takes an ordinary event in someone's life and explores it and all of it's ramifications in depth. Along the way we come to feel like the characters are part of our very own families.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ann Tyler's has the amazing gift of transforming ordinary characters and every day situations into remarkable novels. Her writing reminds us that the simplicity of real life often make for the best stories.
HIROHITO99 More than 1 year ago
It could be argued that Anne Tyler has been writing the same book for the past dozen or so years and, honestly no one could refute that except for Anne Tyler herself, whom I'm sure would be a daunting menace in any form of WWF cage match. Still, I really enjoy her (one) story and I love her characters. She writes about good Baltimore people doing good things and, although I've never been to Baltimore, I'd like to assume that it's populated with these lovable but emotionally disjointed people that she populates her books with. The main character of this novel is a divorced older gentleman who's become staid in his relationship with life. He is robbed, loses his memory and tries to evoke it via a new dumpy girlfriend who just so happens to have an undisclosed vanilla flavored husband waiting in the wings. He's got a segmented family of daughters and an overbearing ex-wife who keep him honest but still, he's lost and his Bible beating grandson provides the type of secular wisdom that only a toddler can appreciate. Even though I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars I'm not going to sit here and proclaim that it pushes the curtains aside on life and teaches you how to understand the broken world as we know it. If anything, it gives up on doing that, and this is exactly why I love it. This is a book about life in all its messiness which exists on the world's book-shelf currently populated by Dan Brown's and Stig Larsen's. It is sorely needed.
mrsbecky51 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this main character. It was a good read with not much action. The plot was lacking in action but somehow I kept reading endearing myself with the character of Liam. I enjoyed the author's writing style. When I finished the book, I asked myself what in the world did I just read? I am a bit confused as to why it is named Noah's Compass, because little reference is made to Noah. I will be anxious to hear how others liked or disliked it. I would be hesitant to buy another book by Anne Tyler.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this not worth the investment of my time.
AVIDRDRJ More than 1 year ago
I totally understand how Anne Tyler's novels are not everyone's cup of tea. I felt the same way when I read her first couple of books, years ago. But I got used to her understated style and grew to adore her quirky, disfunctional characters. One summer while waiting for her next book to come out and longing to read her again, I re-read all of her books. So it was with great joy that I welcomed her latest, Noah's Compass, and it didn't disappoint. The only disappointment is that I read it too fast and now I'll probably have to wait several years for her next one!
mln63 More than 1 year ago
Being a retired teacher who suffer from a stroke, I could relae to this book. The characters were realistic and the plot was genuine. A great book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A few months in the life of a 60-year old man facing retirement. May sound dull; is anything but. Noah is preparing to die, and in fact, learns how to live. Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For me, the characters were unintriguing, the life boring and depressing. I definitely do not recommend.
littlekt More than 1 year ago
An interesting story about an older man suddenly adrift in the world. He is an interesting, if not particularly compelling character. While I was curious about what he would do with himself, I found myself often more frustrated with him than rooting for him. He was a curious protagonist, as he was not terribly sympathetic. I would recommend this book for an interesting character study, even though the end of the story left me feeling unfulfilled... I sensed this was done intentionally, but did not find the story particularly enjoyable. Still worth the time, however, as it did make me think. I believe this would make an excellent story for a book club to discuss.
CraigMcK More than 1 year ago
This is probably not Anne Tyler's finest work, but even when Tyler's mediocre, she far exceeds the accomplishments of other authors at their very best. A male hero -- somewhat rare in Tyler's works -- only added to my enjoyment. Most of Tyler's work is female-centric, but as a male, I find her economy of language facsinating and her sentence structure impeccable. Just hope that there are many more novels to come.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a very enjoyable read. It has well defined characters who many people will be able to relate with, even if just in part. It is emotionally well rounded, with a slight unexpected twist at the end. Not a thriller or a romance novel. It is a book one might want to read when they just need a little pick up, or just for the enjoyment of a quick book. Definitely an original work of art, set in modern times with modern characters. This book will be reread just for the simple pleasure of it. It has a permanent place on my shelf!
DRAMAMAMA2 More than 1 year ago
Love Ann Tyler and enjoyed this little gem very much.
ekassel More than 1 year ago
It's not her best but if you like Tyler you will like Noah's Compass. Always takes an ordinary person and brings them to life. Tyler usually sets her stories in Baltimore and as a former resident I enjoy reading about streets and areas that have good memories for me. Her writing quality is always above average.
badgerpop More than 1 year ago
This novel starts out as a mystery-who assaulted Liam Pennywell in his new apartment and left him in a hospital without knowing who hit him? The solution to the questions around the assault fade into the background as Liam gets out of the hospital and starts to cope with his new condition: he is retired, involuntarily, from a job he didn't like at a private school. He was forced to teach English though he was a philosophy major and, at sixty-one was invited to be laid off. Though he had a case for staying, Liam decided this was a great opportunity to change his life. So he sold his home, moved into the apartment and began to worry about what powers he was losing. So dire were his concerns that he looked for a "reminder"-a sort of assistant who could serve as mental nurse, confidante and amanuensis. He thinks he's found her when he locates Eunice Dunstead, a frumpy thirty-eight year old. They fall into an awkward affair and he begins to have serious thoughts. But that's on the outside of Liam's life. On the inside he has to deal with three daughters: Kitty and her boyfriend, Damien; Louise, the born-again; and Xanthe, who suspects Damien of being Liam's assailant. Throw into the mix Barbara, Liam's second ex-wife (the first died) and assorted other mostly women and you have poor Liam merely trying to survive his retirement. The saving grace for him turns out to be his grandson, Jonah who, at four, loves to color badly and to talk with "Poppy" about many things. Included in his wondering about the world is the clever assumption that Noah was a bad man. He killed a lot of animals because he only took two of each of them on his boat. With the cute grandson, the swarm of females around him and the questions of love and death in the air, this begins to sound like a woman's novel and, in many ways, that's what it becomes. But the character of Liam is an appealing one and we wish him well on his hapless quest for his real self. Largely through no fault of his own, the sky clears and there is every indication that he'll make it through, minus a few people he thought would be with him at the finish.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Premier voice performer Arthur Morey beautifully assumes the persona of protagonist Liam Pennywell in this wise, affecting story. Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler is a kind, generous author; Morey is a kind, generous reader presenting Liam as an ordinary fellow with regrets, hopes and aspirations common to many. A teacher of performance and writing at several universites Morey brings both knowledge and awareness to his narrative. Following a Pulitzer Prize for BREATHING LESSONS and accolades from every newspaper, journal, and reviewer imaginable for other works what further praise could be heaped upon the unparalleled Anne Tyler? She has captured readers once again with a story of ordinary people, their hopes, joys, regrets, and fears. Ordinary people, yes, but intriguing to us because Tyler presents them with such discernment, kindness, wisdom and humor. At 61 years of age Liam Pennywell lost his job. For him it wasn't much of a job anyway; he had a degree in philosophy. But, he had been teaching fifth grade in a second tier boy's school, and Noah accepted his unexpected unemployment stoically thinking, "This might be a sign. It could just be the nudge he needed to push him on to the next stage - the final stage, ....... The stage where he sat in his rocking chair and reflected upon what it all meant, in the end." That was exactly what he intended to do but first he had to move into less expensive living quarters - a modest condominium on the rim of Baltimore. Unfortunately, that rocking chair would have to wait because on his first night in his new home someone broke in, assaulted him, and the next thing Noah knew he awoke in a hospital bed unable to remember what had happened and why he was there. The lost few hours soon mean everything to him,; he becomes obsessed with remembering that time period. To him, "The distressing thing about losing a memory was that it felt like losing control." And, Noah does want things to be in control whether it is being bothered by mismatched dining chairs in a coffee shop or his grandson, Jonah, ignoring the lines in a coloring book. Noah is a rather isolated individual with few friends, a sister of whom he's not particularly fond, twice married (once widowed and once divorced), and the father of three daughters he doesn't see very often. Nonetheless, when he is released from the hospital all rally about to help (or hinder) in various ways. In addition, he meets Eunice, a 38-year-old plump, rather frumpy woman given to wearing "balloony" trousers and heavy sandals. She serves as what might be called a "rememberer" for a very wealthy man who is suffering from dimentia. Noah believes that perhaps Eunice is precisely what he needs. As Noah continues to pursue his quest for those lost hours we learn more about his earlier life, and see his daughters in greater depth. Tyler is a genius with spare prose and attention to telling detail whether it be a torn belt loop or long, flexible fingers "ending in nailbitten nubbins - lemur fingers." Every detail paints a broader picture of the character described. NOAH'S COMPASS is a rare beauty of a book - enjoy! - Gail Cooke
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read every Anne Tyler book I have ever found and liked most of them. This is not her best book but it is an easy and enjoyable read.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
Noah’s Compass is the eighteenth adult novel by American author, Anne Tyler. When sixty-year-old Liam Pennywell is retrenched from his job as a fifth-grade teacher, he decides to downsize his life, moving to a smaller apartment with less possessions; he even considers retiring altogether. But after going to sleep in his new bedroom, he wakens in a hospital bed with no memory of intervening events. His capable ex-wife Barbara and his three daughters (the rather bossy Xanthe, the born-again Christian Louise and seventeen-year-old Kitty) tell him to be grateful he can’t remember being mugged, can’t remember how he got his scalp wound or the bite on his hand. But the void in his recall nags at him, and in his neurologist’s waiting room he encounters Eunice, a woman whom he feels may hold the key to the recollection he seeks. And it seems that, unlike Xanthe, Louise and Kitty, who find him hopeless and obtuse and are infuriated by his policy of not arguing, Eunice looks up to him and seems to understand him. Whilst aware of her shortcomings - “plump and frizzy-haired and bespectacled, dumpily dressed, bizarrely jewelled, too young for him and too earnest” - might he, after being widowed, remarried and divorced, have finally have found someone to be happy with? And just to complicate life even further, Kitty comes to live with him for the summer vacation, something he’s not entirely sure how to cope with. And there’s Kitty’s boyfriend, Damian, who attracts the disapproval of Xanthe and Barbara. Tyler excels at making the reader really care about fairly ordinary people doing fairly ordinary things and having fairly ordinary events occur in their fairly ordinary lives. And just when the plot sounds somewhat predictable, Tyler throws in a major twist or two. Liam is a likeable character who admits “….I haven’t exactly covered myself in glory. I just….don’t seem to have the hang of things, somehow. It’s as if I’ve never been entirely present in my own life.” Through Liam’s thoughts, Tyler displays some wonderful imagery: “Damian had the posture of a consumptive – narrow, curved back and buckling knees. He resembled a walking comma.” and “Nobody would mistake him for anything but a cop. His white shirt was so crisp that it hurt to look at it, and the weight of his gun and his radio and his massive black leather belt would have sunk him like a stone if he had fallen into any water.” Many of the interactions between characters are laugh-out-loud moments, but Liam provides some gems of wisdom too: “He started laughing. He was laughing out of surprise as much as amusement, because he hadn’t remembered this himself until now and yet it had come back to him in perfect detail. Where from? he wondered. And how had he ever forgotten it in the first place? The trouble with discarding bad memories was that evidently the good ones went with them.” This novel is characteristically Anne Tyler: funny, moving, thought-provoking and, as always, quite brilliant. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Boring & without purpose
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Been a fan for 40 yrs. Her subtle humor sparse. Her characters not tug at your heart endearing ln this one.wanted to go back to a tyler world of the everyday and revel ln the realities of life. I was so tired of vampires and detectives. At first i was tickled to meet liam but then the joy left. I felt like tyler was saying that is it folks that is all life is. It is not exciting at all. No wonder liam found comfort in the idea of death. But her othet books celebrate the ordinary the subtle. This one philosophically stoicaly accepts it. Maybe we are just watching our lives liam said. O but anne that is why i loved you. You made me feel that even a trip to the grocerystore was living. Romance laughter tears belonged to all of us. We ALL mattered. I too will accept my death but i want to read the books you used to write that made me FEEL.