Digging to America (Anne Tyler) 4*

Dear Diary,

When I closed the book on the bar exam four years ago, we watched Star Trek and ate strawberry and fudge swirl ice cream.  Then I watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  Then I went to Chicago and watched The Wedding Crashers.  Finally, I read A Patchwork Planet on sunny Chicago afternoons and in the wee hours, after midnight and tequila.  It was a good time.

After A Patchwork Planet, I enthusiastically dove into Anne Tyler’s back catalog only to hit a shallow bottom.  Ugh, Breathing Lessons.  Ugh, Back When We Were Grown-Ups.  It so often happens that the first book I encounter is my only favorite, yet I plow ahead in increasing bewilderment.  I call this the Kurt Vonnegut syndrome, or the E.L. Doctorow syndrome.  So many bad books have I read.

But finally, with Digging to America, Anne Tyler has redeemed herself.  Her acuity, her grace, her perfect comfort inside the narrators…ah, it makes my toes wiggle.  Her details make me feel excited yet graceless by comparison, in the same manner that Dune makes its readers feel thrillingly engaged yet embarassingly dimwitted compared to those fucking superhuman Atreides.  (I’m telling rather than showing, which is ironic because Anne-with-an-”e” Tyler is 110% show-not-tell.  But I can write whatever I want, diary.)  Not a whole lot happens, yet the life of the book is engrossing.  It feels like a master chef has served me a home-cooked meal with artfully balanced garnishes of candied lemon zest and fresh mint.  I have eaten it chapter by chapter, not worrying about the next course, and now I am content.  As they say, the days are long but the years are short.

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