Earthly Possessions, by Anne Tyler

Earthly PossessionsFinished 10-22-11, rating 4/5, fiction, 200 pages, pub. 1977

My life has been a history of casting off encumbrances, paring down to the bare essentials, stripping for the journey.  Possessions makes me anxious.  When Saul gave me my engagement ring, I worried for months.  How would I hide it?  For surely I should take it with me; I could sell it for food.  But wouldn’t it tempt bandits as I lay sleeping by the roadside?  In their haste they might cut off my finger, and I carried no medical supplies.  I was glad when times got hard and we had to sell the ring back to Arkin’s Jeweler’s.

A husband is another encumbrance; I often thought that.  And children even more so.  (Not to mention their equipment: their sweaters, Band-Aids, stuffed animals, vitamins.)  How did I end up with so much when I had thrown so much away?

Chapter 3

Charlotte has lived a quiet existence in the small town of Clarion, Maryland.  We first meet her when she goes into the bank to withdraw money so that she can leave her husband.  Only she gets more than she’s bargained for as she’s taken hostage by Jake, a recent prison escapee.  They eventually end up in Florida after they’ve picked up Jake’s pregnant girlfriend up along the way.  The story goes back and forth between her life as a hostage and the life she’s led up until that point.

Okay, I usually start with what I liked about the book, but I must start with the part that gave me the most trouble.  The hostage plot device made me roll my eyes in annoyance for the first fourth of the book.  This book was published in 1977, before cell phones but certainly not before common sense.  It really isn’t until you get further into the book and had time to reflect that the things that annoyed me about her being a way-too-accomodating hostage were the same things that made her life story so interesting.

Charlotte is a woman who has never felt like she belonged anywhere and things seem to happen to her instead of her making any conscious decision herself.  She’s stuck in a life not of her choosing.  Her mom always told her that she believed that Charlotte had been switched with her real baby at the hospital and that was something that stuck with Charlotte, that she might have another life out there-her real life.  So, Charlotte spent her life always believing that one day her real life would show up and she’d be ready to go.

Charlotte is not a warm and fuzzy woman, really she’s not even sympathetic, but there is a realness to her that surprised me.  She is like a lot of people, stuck in a life they didn’t think they wanted.  Being taken hostage was the most exciting thing that ever happened to her.

I didn’t like this book as I read it.  It’s only 200 pages so it’s a quick read, and it wasn’t until after I’d finished and I’d had a little time to consider it that I realized how complex and great the story was.  Tyler has been hit or miss with me, but this one is a hit.

This was from my personal library.

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