Friday, December 7, 2012

Living Life to the Fullest

Ian always does this to me.

I was flipping television channels, not seeing anything that especially interested me, when I was fortunate enough to catch the second half of Saint Maybe.

Saint Maybe the movie is based on the novel of the same name, written by Anne Tyler. I’d seen the movie before, and I’d read the book twice, so I knew I’d be crying in about a minute.

The novel tells the story of the Bedloes, with a focus on Ian Bedloe. Ian is in college and has his whole life ahead of him. But then his older brother dies in an accident, and Ian feels responsible. So when Lucy, his brother’s wife, dies not long after, Ian decides to put his plans aside and raise his brother’s three young children, hoping to atone for his misdeeds in the process. Two of the children are from Lucy’s first marriage and technically aren’t related to the Bedloes at all, but that doesn’t matter to Ian.

The story spans several years, during which we see the familial bonds grow and deepen with Ian’s sacrifice. Like all sacrifices, Ian’s is not without cost. The youngest child is well into her teens, and Ian has never married or fathered children of his own. All the kids, who love Ian dearly, are worried that he’ll always be alone. After a failed match-making episode, Agatha, the oldest daughter (who’s now a doctor) says wistfully and a little angrily, “I just want him to have a full life.” But that’s the question, right? Who’s to say that a life spent selflessly serving others isn’t full? That carefully and devotedly raising someone else’s children can’t be as satisfying as raising your own biological ones? Ian’s unwavering dedication to the children, and their love for him, affect me so profoundly I swear I should hire a therapist to have a chat about it. But I won’t.

I began reading Tyler years ago after purchasing an anthology of her novels by mistake. A friend had recommended some other Anne, and I got it mixed up. That turned out to be one of the happiest accidents of my (literary) life. Tyler’s books are beautiful, gentle, thoughtful stories of family in all its complexity. (I’d bet money that Tyler is an introvert.)

Another of my favorite Tyler novels is Ladder of Years, in which a married woman with three almost-grown children decides to do what many married women (including me) have fantasized about—walk out the door and never come back. During one family beach vacation, Delia’s casual stroll becomes a segue into a brand new life of quiet discovery. The reader should be scandalized, but Tyler wins our sympathy for Delia, whose family contacts the police but then can’t give an accurate physical description, remembering neither Delia’s eye color nor her height. She’s become no more than a shadow in the background of their lives, and it’s not good enough. Tyler is a class act, and I’m never disappointed. In the hands of another author, a story like this could easily have deteriorated into something sordid, but we don’t have to worry about that when Tyler is at the wheel.

Watching Saint Maybe reminds me that Tyler has written a few novels I haven’t read, and I need to catch up. I should go ahead and get started on that. See ya'll!

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