By Anne Tyler
Liam Pennywell is man with a whole lot of nothing going on in his life. He’s 60 years old, divorced, he isn’t close to his three daughters, and has just been laid off from his job as a fifth grade history teacher. Liam decides to downsize himself and moves into a smaller apartment. On the first night he’s there, he’s attached and knocked unconscious. He wakes up in the hospital with no idea how he got there or what happened to him.
Liam becomes obsessed with getting his memory back. When he meets a woman, Eunice, who seems to be a rememberer of sorts, he starts to drone on about all the disappoints in his life — two failed marriages, three daughters who barely know him and he makes no effort to know them, a grandchild he doesn’t know, and, most startling to him, he seems to have no interests in anything. He begins to feel as if he’s drifting with no purpose or goal. Eunice becomes entangled in his life and he finds he likes it. The new relationship brings an odd joy to him and he starts getting to know his youngest daughter and grandchild as well. When things become complicated, he once again looks back on his life and all he lost and found.
One of the things I like about Anne Tyler is her ability to take an ordinary person and situation and make it fascinating. There isn’t anything about Liam that is out of the ordinary. His problems are ones we’re all acquainted with. We don’t have to imagine what his problems would be like because we have most likely experienced something very similar. It’s the vagaries of everyday life that Tyler seems to work best with. We all wonder about what we’ve done and where we might be going. There’s a familiarity that brings the characters to life.
In my opinion, this book was not one of Tyler’s best, but I still enjoyed it. She drops you into a story and you feel as if you’ve always belonged with these characters. I got hooked and when it ended, rather abruptly, I felt slightly cheated, as if I wasn’t done looking over Liam’s shoulder and contemplating life and what it should be. I also love that this book is set in Baltimore. It’s near my city and I like being able to pick out landmarks. If you’re an Anne Tyler fan, or not, Noah’s Compass is worth a read.