Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although Tyler (Breathing Lessons ; Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant ) is again writing about families--the way they cleave together in times of trouble and muddle through with stoic courage--her eminently satisfying new novel breaks her familiar mold, giving us ordinary, not eccentric characters who are shaped by disastrous events into quietly heroic behavior. The Bedloes are cheerful and count their blessings, even if they are far from rich and live on a slightly seedy street in Baltimore. But when 17-year-old Ian rashly informs his older brother Dan that the latter's wife was undoubtedly pregnant before their marriage, Dan commits suicide, and Ian is left with profound guilt--especially since Dan's wife dies soon after. Asking God's forgiveness, he receives spiritual guidance at the endearingly shabby Church of the Second Chance. He drops out of college, becomes a carpenter and helps his parents care for the three orphaned children; as the years pass, that burden falls primarily on Ian's shoulders. Wondering when God will signal that his atonement can end, Ian has an epiphany: ``You could never call it a penance, to have to care for those three.''...Since her characters' foibles never overwhelm their homespun simplicity, the reader is emotionally involved and touched as never before.
School Library Journal
All is well with the Bedloe's Baltimore family until Danny, the eldest son, announces his engagement to Lucy, a woman he has known for only two weeks and who is the mother of two small children, Agatha and Thomas. Their own daughter, Daphne, is born sooner than expected that same year. The suicides of first Danny and then Lucy are unexplained, and all but destroy the Bedloe family. While only a college freshman, Ian, Danny's younger brother, returns home to raise the orphaned children and to search for his own salvation through the Church of the Second Chance. Tyler's remarkable novel pulls at the heart strings and jogs the memories of forgotten youth. Ian's story is neither action packed nor fast moving, but each page will be eagerly anticipated. While the majority of YA readers lack enough life experiences to appreciate the pure joy of Tyler's descriptions and thoughts, not to steer them in her direction would be a shame. --Katherine Fitch, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Burke, VA
Washington Post Book World
Captivating . . . . Compelling . . . . There is a kind of magic at work in this novel.
Many of Tyler's principals, introverted, removed, plod around the perimeters of self like patient dray horses, so it's no surprise that her saint herea Baltimore teen convinced that he caused not only his brother's death but the dire consequences that followed shortly afteris a deliberate and careful saint, laboring conscientiously on the narrow, plainly marked path of a fundamentalist Christian church toward expiation. One terrible night, Ian Bedloe, 19, third child of cheerful Bee and agreeable Doug (one of those Tyler men who say, "Well, now"), blurts out to brother Danny his suspicions about Danny's wifebright-lipsticked, tiny-faced Lucy, mother of two by a divorced husband and of an infant (by Danny?). Danny, slightly drunk, drives off into a fatal accident; months later, sad and scatty Lucy dies alsoafter what was probably an accidental dose of sleeping pills. Clubbed by the horror of unbearable guilt, Ian is drawn to the storefront Church of the Second Chance, presided over by Reverend Emmett, undoubtedly God's agentbony, magisterial, discovered later to be affectionately capricious. Reverend Emmett lays out the Way: forget college, provide for and rescue aging parents from the care of Lucy's kids (ages six, three, and baby) and "set things right." Ian "saw that he was beginning from scratch...as low as he could get." Years pass; Ian works as a carpenter leading a life of celibacy and service; kids mature and shape up. Where is that reward? Ian is ripe for a Sign. It comes, of courseas do love and a second chance. As always, Tyler's peoplefrom powerless small children (whose "every waking minute was scary") to the electric, poignantLucy to the crackly little church groupare as intensely real and yet ultimately unknowable as those who somehow have changed one's life. Less accessible than some of Tyler's others, but on its own terms, perfection.
From the Publisher
"Anne Tyler, who is blessedly prolific and graced with an effortless-seeming talent at describing whole rafts of intricately individualized people, might be described as a domestic novelist, one of that great line descending from Jane Austen...Her eye is kindly, wise and versatile (an eye that you would want on your jury if you ever had to stand trial), and after going at each new set of characters with authorial eagerness and an exuberant tumble of details, she tends to arrive at a set of conclusions about them that is a sort of golden mean."
Edward Hoagland, The New York Times
"With her extraordinary talents Anne Tyler can crush the heart with the hopelessness of life on one page and lift it with love and humor on the next. Now, in her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons, she explores in one Baltimore marriage the resilient spirit that rescues us from moments of despair."
Lee Lescaze, The Wall Street Journal