“Late one July evening in 1994, Red and Abby Whitshank had a phone call from their son Denny.”
I AM bemused as to what this is doing on the Man Booker 2015 short list. It is a completely different proposition to the other contenders. This is Anne Tyler’s 20th book. The list of admiring plaudits at the front make her out to be some kind of American Solzhenitsyn. Nick Hornby declares she is the “best line-and-length novelist in the world”. Leaving that remark aside for a moment (this is not a cricket match), the subject matter alone is the kind of suburban American dream to which all the heroes of the other short-listed books might and do desperately aspire.
We have normality, Waltons-warm and comforting. Two dogs, the house that grandpa built, Abby and Red getting on a bit now and have the family to look after them. All the other writers are notable wordsmiths where this is an East coast stream of consciousness, a ramble in the front parlour.
It is also, you might say, a girl’s book where four of the others are written by men (and it shows) and the fifth is about men (sort of).
This is easy, cake-icing writing, loads of conversational dialogue so you rattle along quite happily at speed, a chat per page. Its concerns are, well, Nora was “a beautiful woman who did not know she was beautiful”. Got it? As they gather round for a family lunch “people kept saying: I’m sorry is this your glass or mine?”. And then “I am exhausted…It seems preparing for a trip gets more tiring each year”.
As far as the Man Booker 2015 is concerned this is like entering the Crossroads motel for an Oscar.