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BREATHING LESSONS by Anne Tyler Kirkus Star

BREATHING LESSONS

A Novel

By Anne Tyler

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1988
ISBN: 0345485572
Publisher: Knopf

In Tyler's latest testing of the strangulating tugs and miraculous stretch of familial and marital ties, a middle-aged Baltimore couple (inexplicably linked, like so many of Tyler's lovers) take a one-day's detour-clogged trip to a funeral. It's a circuit of comic bumps and heartbreaking plunges that takes them home again to dwindling hope and options, but also to the certainty of love. Maggie Moran, 48, a nursing-home aide (although years ago, her purse-lipped mother had demanded college), was certainly a "klutz." Everyone, including Maggie's "closed-in, isolate" husband Ira, thought so. Maggie had a "knobby, fumbling way of progressing through life" feeling "as if the world were the tiniest bit out of focus. . .and if she made the smallest adjustment everything would settle perfectly into place." Maggie had indeed "adjusted" the focus of young Fiona, pregnant by Maggie and Ira's failure-bound son Jesse, at the very door of the abortion clinic (surrounded by amateur picketers). Through some hardworking, warmhearted lying, Maggie had forged Jesse and Fiona's marriage; and Maggie's "breathing lessons," coaching Fiona in pregnancy, had as much control over her granddaughter's birth as all Maggie's efforts to prevent the break-up of a young marriage with no connective tissue. Now Maggie is bent on retrieving Fiona and granddaughter back to Jesse--another Moran who's "thrown away his future," like Ira, who had dreams of being a doctor, but was hobbled by his own family, whom he loved and hated. (Could it be, however, in the words of a splintery geezer, netted by Maggie on the highway, that "what you throw away is all that really counts"?) Before the visit to Fiona, there's the funeral, and middle-aged classmates watch silent movies of their young selves. The camera had recorded Maggie and Ira as "ordinary"--in the way a sea shell marks genus but not the undulations of existence. Once home, Maggie's carousel of hopes stops, and she cries out: "What are we two going to live for, all the rest of our lives?" But Ira, wiser, shrewder, offers and welcomes love. A seriocomic journey in which, as always, underlying the character-rooted, richly comic turns, is Tyler's affectionate empathy for those who detour--and "practice life" to "get it right.